Nimrodi's Test

Ofer Nimrodi, owner of the mass-circulation daily newspaper Ma'ariv, has been experiencing something unfamiliar these days: rare esteem and praise is greeting the appointment of the editors-in-chief Doron Galezer and Ruthie Yuval.

Ofer Nimrodi, owner of the mass-circulation daily newspaper Ma'ariv, has been experiencing something unfamiliar these days: rare esteem and praise is greeting the appointment of the editors-in-chief Doron Galezer and Ruthie Yuval, the likes of which the battered publisher has never enjoyed.

Fifteen years after he bought the newspaper, there appears at long last the possibility that he will be extricated from his outsider position in print journalism and will earn equal status in the exclusive club of the veteran publishers who, unlike him, were born into the industry.

The change in the way the wind is blowing can be attributed first of all to what Galezer and Yuval represent: traditional, independent, investigative journalism that is not linked by umbilical cord to wealth, does not habitually hobnob socially with politicians in the places they frequent, and is not tainted by obsequious populism.

Both of them grew up in the solid school of the Haaretz group, and both have proven that it is possible to maintain the values of classical journalism even in the commercial environment of the mass circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth, and television's Channel 2.

In that sense, their appointment signals an intention to bring about a change in the professional ethos at Ma'ariv, especially as constituted during the past five years. The departing editor, Amnon Dankner, was Nimrodi's energetic defender in the criminal affairs in which the latter was embroiled, and Dankner's appointment gave the signal for two main trends in the editorial line: the popular bordering on sensationalism, and a battle against "the rule of law and order gangs" (and the old elites in general).

Galezer and Yuval were among Nimrodi's leading critics in their previous positions, and their selection as editors-in-chief is being interpreted as an opposing path to that taken by Dankner: the elimination of tabloid populism, and being at the forefront of the fight for the rule of law. The message is clear: The old Nimrodi is dead, greet the new Nimrodi.

Nimrodi also knows that the new appointments alone will not bring about the change, and will not rescue Ma'ariv from its collapse (an operating loss of NIS 30 million in 2006 and a loss of nearly twice that in 2007). The days are long gone when the fate of newspapers was decided by their editors. Ma'ariv has embarked on a new path in a cruel world, where television and the Internet grow stronger day by day, where Yedioth Ahronoth puts out an economic newspaper, and where the freebie papers are also insisting on taking a bite of the pie.

In a reality like this, all the independence that Nimrodi has promised his editors, and all the talents whom they are intending to recruit, will not suffice to bring about the revolution. He must provide them with the necessary economic conditions; otherwise all the money (according to estimates, about $100 million) that he has already poured into the newspaper will go down the drain.

In this sense, the focus on the editors misses the main point. The real test is Nimrodi himself. It is he who must prove his personal and business commitment to rehabilitating Ma'ariv, contrary to all the bitter experience and all the pessimistic assessments. It is he who must overcome his partner Vladimir Gusinsky's opposition to continuing to put more money into a losing business. It is he who has to give his editors a secure, professional and independent working environment. Is he capable of doing all this?

At Ma'ariv, they are trying to radiate confidence. They are saying that Galezer and Yuval would not have come without solid guarantees, and they note that Nimrodi would not have gone into the adventure had he been planning to shut the faucet. They detail optimistically the strategic plan - changes of the top editorial and management people, which has already been implemented; the injection of new capital by the owners - and if Gusinsky refuses he will be "diluted"; raising capital from the public, on the basis of the promised changes; and efficiency measures in the editorial system, by means of uniting departments and the maximum employment of the journalists.

On paper, this is promising. In reality, it looks more like a last gamble on the whole pot. Even those who are not connected to Ma'ariv should want the gamble to succeed. Somebody needs to stop Yedioth Aharonoth's excessive control of the popular media market. It would be no exaggeration to say that Israeli democracy itself needs a stable and competitive Ma'ariv, a counterweight to - but not an imitation of - the dominant Yedioth Ahronoth.

It is enough to observe the effect of the systematic campaign that is being conducted by the Mozes family - the owners of Yedioth - on behalf of Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and his philosophy, in order to understand the need for an alternative. The question of whether a new Nimrodi has arisen who is built to stand up to the challenge still remains to be answered.