Businessman or Paper Boy?

Ofer Nimrodi, the controlling shareholder in Maariv newspaper, was very embarrassed and upset last week.

For almost two months, Nimrodi has categorically denied engaging in negotiations to make Arcadi Gaydamak his business partner. Suddenly, at the precise moment when he decided to make a proper public announcement admitting the negotiations, Gaydamak got cold feet.

Nimrodi has learned to deal with a lot of embarrassing things in his life, but this story nearly drove him crazy. It was Wednesday morning, just a short time after his company, the Israel Land Development Corporation (ILDC), announced the Nimrodi family intended to sell half of its holdings to Gaydamak. At 8:56 A.M., the announcement was made that "advanced negotiations" were underway with Gaydamak over the sale. Then at 1:12 P.M., it had to announce that "at this stage, the negotiations have stopped" with Gaydamak.

Gaydamak, we have already seen, does not play by the accepted rules here in Israel. He has no sentiment for anyone and brilliantly manages his affairs. According to surveys, he enjoys incredible support, and is being chased by politicians: Benjamin Netanyahu, who turned up at Gaydamak's Hanukkah party, has not ruled out asking Gaydamak to join the Likud.

Gaydamak, in turn, returned the favor, announcing he would support Netanyahu. His exhibitionist shows of charity allow him to do whatever he likes - and his idiosyncrasies do not hurt his standing.

Nimrodi is in exactly the opposite position. Maariv's business has been bleeding for years, and none of his attempts to sell the paper have gone well.

Every few months, another report appears with the new name of someone who might be interested in buying the paper. Once it was Nochi Dankner of IDB, another time it was Noam Lanir of Empire Online, and later we heard about American billionaire Sheldon Adelson. This time, it was Gaydamak's turn.

You might think that the long list of potential buyers testifies to the attractive nature of the asset. In practice, however, it is beginning to look like a joke.

Nimrodi, who some characterize as brilliant, has turned out to be a failure as a businessman. His investments in Maariv seem to be in bad shape.

His actions surrounding the "sale on, sale off" for the paper, and the spin about various and sundry buyers certainly do not do him any great honor.

Through his actions, he actually comes out looking more like a newspaper boy than a real businessman.

It seems that the potential buyers actually get more out of the reports than Nimrodi. People think that whoever controls a newspaper, or another media outlet, enjoys an extraordinary position of power and influence. This is how they justify the willingness of business people to make due with low profits in the media sector.

But maybe you don't actually have to own a newspaper to enjoy such influence. Sometimes it is good enough to be a potential purchaser of a newspaper to win respect. It is certainly cheaper.

Perhaps this is why Gaydamak made a u-turn at the last minute, before falling into the Nimrodi's bleeding journalistic pit.