Yes, the publishers are to blame. As are the managers. But what about the editors? And the reporters? After all, they are the ones who produced a product whose popularity has dwindled day by day - and not only due to the competition posed by Internet media.

Maariv's Day of Atonement didn't begin in this new Jewish year of 5773. It started years ago, when the successors to the newspaper's founders began to imitate the "contemporary" style of rival papers, in stark contrast to Maariv's original character and style (this often happens to successful businesses, when founders anoint unsuitable family members as their professional heirs ). Veteran readers of the paper found it hard to get used to this stylistic imitation, as well as the dramatic change in the newspaper's political outlook, so they drifted to other papers. And the readers the "New Maariv" was hoping to attract preferred the original to the imitation.

The founders published a newspaper for which there was great demand. Readers felt as though Maariv spoke with their own voice - that it shared their pain, in days when there was no shortage of pain, and also shared their joys. That was equally true of the biting (but never violent! ) criticism leveled by the paper's main columnists: They spoke harshly, but never viciously, and readers felt that these columnists were voicing their own thoughts.

Azriel Carlebach, Shmuel Schnitzer, Shalom Rosenfeld, Moshe Zak, Ephraim Kishon, Kariel Gardosh (the cartoonist better known as "Dosh" ) and all the other talented journalists were no angels. Like journalists today, they wanted power, influence and recognition. Yet for all of them, an understanding of the magnitude of their responsibility took precedence. When you read their stinging words, you had the feeling that their criticism emerged from hearts heavy with concern and genuine love for the fragile future facing the Jewish people's miraculous return to Zion.

To a great extent, Maariv was the people's organ. Together with the people, the newspaper suffered through the bitter trials immigrants faced during their absorption and the difficult days of rationing. The paper never hesitated to expose the hypocrisy, deceit, cronyism and hedonism of the socialist establishment. With biting sarcasm, Ephraim Kishon made laughingstocks of the sanctimonious, empty slogans spouted by the ruling clique, which discriminated against new immigrants and ran roughshod over rival political camps.

So long as Maariv articulated its criticism in sharp but civil terms, and so long as it gave priority to the legitimate interests of the Jews rather than giving a sometimes sick priority to their enemies, it remained, as its slogan claimed, "the most widely read paper." And it amassed profits and influence accordingly.

When it turned into a cheap imitation, the newspaper lost its character and soul - and also most of its readers. The millions invested by Robert Maxwell, Ofer Nimrodi, Nochi Dankner and others didn't help. If only out of business considerations, these investors should have restored the newspaper's original ethos, because there, in the center, is also where most of the readers are. But they continued the strategic blunders made by the first round of imitators and hired leftist, anti-Zionist editors such as Doron Galezer and Ruth Yovel (to name two of Nimrodi's picks ). And they thereby continued to push Maariv, and their own investments, down the drain.

It's not necessary to resuscitate the founders' archaic style, but it is necessary to adopt the moral, ethical and national values that guided them. Based on my own meetings with the public, I can say that many readers thirst for such journalism. In fact, in recent months, thanks to editors who started to grasp that fact and talented journalists with backbones such as Ben-Dror Yemini and Kalman Liebeskind (and more than a few others ), Maariv has begun trying to return to its distinguished past.

Is it too late? Even if a purchase agreement is finalized, the answer to that question depends on the editors and reporters who will pilot the foundering ship through the stormy waters it will yet be forced to navigate for some time to come.