Maariv’s Paper Tigers Should Pay for Its Folding

After running Ma’ariv like a vanity project for years, Ma’ariv’s owners should cover their employees’ severance pay.

Maariv is an "ungovernable organization," a former senior employee at the paper said earlier this week. He explained that inherent organizational dysfunction and a perpetual lack of cash turned Maariv into a business that could not be controlled.

The organizational DNA that developed at Maariv resulted from many years of its being managed based on ratings, influence and ego, with business concerns placed on the backburner.

Over the past decade, the newspaper passed through the hands of three controlling shareholders, each of who replaced top management with their own yes-men. One after another, the owners further cut newsroom employees and their salaries, while safeguarding the high salaries of senior company executives. While employees fought wave after wave of layoffs, the Jeeps and BMWs continued to roll in and out of the covered parking lot on Carlebach Street reserved for Maariv’s elite.

The organizational chaos peaked during the era of Ofer Nimrodi, whose family purchases the newspaper in 1992. Already by the early 2000s, the newspaper had started to rapidly burn through its cash reserves. But instead of taking appropriate administrative measures to improve the company’s business operations, Nimrodi solved Maariv’s troubles with financial engineering. In 1998, he raised $85 million by selling 25 percent of the company’s shares to the Russian media oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky. In 2004, Nimrodi dumped NIS 185 million in cash into the company's coffers by selling Ma'ariv's holdings in Matav Cable Systems.

These two cash infusions were not tied to the company’s competitive health, the quality of its product of the managerial ability of its leadership. All they did was buoy the company financially until 2010. At that point the money ran out, and Maariv started issuing debt to investors. When the bond funding dried up, Nimrodi sold the newspaper to investor Zaki Rakib. When Rakib realizedthe paper was going down the toilet, he unloaded it on IDB Holding's controlling shareholder,Nochi Dankner.

Nimrodi’s lost decade, Rakib’s fling and Dankner’s year of dangling have left Maariv helpless and without stable management – a newspaper that is “ungovernable.” With the possible exception of a short period under Rakib, Maariv never underwent essential administrative reforms to adapt it to the complex reality developing around it.

The easy cash that was injected into the paper perhaps kept it on life support in the short-term, but also became addictive to generations of Maariv's management. To them it didn't seem necessary to manage the company like a sustainable enterprise when there was so much free money on hand. It was fine for senior company executives to employ family members and personal assistants at high salaries. It was possible to purchase cars for executives and to renovate offices, while at the same time laying off the paper's rank and file and bemoaning the harsh financial situation in front of them.

Danker took control of Maariv for much the same reason that Nimrodi originally did. It was not a desire to create high-quality journalism, but a need for public recognition, power and influence.

Danker knew that Maariv was a dependent news outfit that would require an endless supply of capital. But he believed he would be able to raise funds from public bond offerings indefinitely. His plan was to to keep Maariv operating with minimal funding while using it as a weapon in his battles with government regulators, creditors and business competitors.

Now the money has run out. The company’s saving have been depleted and Dankner’s capital injections have come to an end – it is no coincidence that took to the streets in protest the same day IDB Holding’s was deemed insolvent. It was cheap money that protected Maariv from its fate for over a decade. When that money ran out, the paper collapsed and disgracefully abandoned most of its employees. The people who only a week ago sacrificed reputations earned over many years and rallied around their current owner now find themselves fighting for severance payments that they are legally owed.

Over the past few years, Maariv implemented a failed strategy of "me too." People in the newsroom probably had no desire to be another Yedioth Ahronoth. But they did not have a choice in the matter, because their owners – first Nimrodi and then Dankner – simply wanted to be newspaper owners in the vein of Arnon "Noni" Mozes.

The two men pushed Maariv toward the square on the board helped by Yedioth Ahronoth, guided not by careful strategic analysis, but by ego and a desire for power. 2,010 workers at Maariv, including 370 newsroom journalists, were just tools in the hands of greater powers. Maybe they didn't feel this in the day-to-day operation of the paper. Perhaps they never received a phone call from the owner that instructed them on which stories to bury and what topics to write about. But Maariv’s raison d’etre was the aggrandizement of its owners, even at the price of the organization itself.

Instead of utilizing the safety cushion of cash held in the newspaper's coffers to prepare it for the challenges of the digital era, the paper squandered it on egotistical battles and failed attempts to undermine the enemies of its controlling shareholder.

Maariv's employees should stick Nimrodi and Dankner with the bill. They should direct their justified struggle against those who prevented the organization from focusing on its long-term survival. Nimrodi and Dankner are personally responsible for these workers, some of who unhesitatingly defended them over the years. If Maariv cannot find the funds to pay its employees the severance packages they are due, Nimrodi and Dankner should dig the money out of their own deep pockets.

Alon Ron
Ilan Assayag