The questions arising from the acquisition of Hebrew daily "Ma'ariv" by Shlomo Ben-Tzvi, the publisher of "Makor Rishon", do not just concern one newspaper, but relate to the print media in general. Ben-Tzvi may be the first man in "Ma'ariv's" history who is buying it for purely economic motives. He is not trying to sell Zionism, patriotism, or freedom of the press. Ben-Tzvi is not buying "Ma'ariv" for sentimental reasons, not out of nostalgia for the brand, for the feel of paper in his hands, or, we regret to say, for the employees either. This fact may be the best guarantee of success for the acquisition - or for its dismal failure.
Ben-Tzvi has some points to his credit which may shed light on the future of print journalism in Israel. The first is the fact that he was the first man in Israel to establish a freesheet, "Israeli", the predecessor of "Israel Today". He knows how to do it, and even through the freesheet market appears to be saturated, we wouldn’t be surprised to see "Ma'ariv" being handed out at intersections.
"Israeli" could have been a dizzying success, because it was founded for business, not political reasons, until Ben-Tzvi's partner in the venture, Sheldon Adelson, fell out with him.
Ben-Tzvi will apparently be the man who will take "Ma'ariv to the digital era. Now, he is free of the burdens of the print media borne by "Ma'ariv's" previous owners - printing and distribution. It is logical to hold these assets when you are financially sound, but not when "Ma'ariv" is dying. Behind closed doors, Ben-Tzvi revealed that he intends to stop printing "Ma'ariv's" weekday editions shortly. The brand will continue to exist in the digital space, and the Friday edition will be printed, saving printing costs for the rest of the time.
Not afraid of cutbacks
This leads to the second fact that should be remembered about Ben-Tzvi: he has a nemesis in the local industry - Sheldon Adelson - and the two men are still engaged in a legal battle. Ben-Tzvi shares the widespread feeling in the Israeli media that "Israel Today" is a danger.
The third fact is that Ben-Tzvi wants to be a key media tycoon in a hot and crowded field. He is not buying an Israeli media group, print or electronic, in order to make millions. If you are looking for what drives Ben-Tzvi in his various media investments, it is possible to see his longstanding desire to reach center stage. Whether it was Channel 10, or "Israeli", and even the Tchelet and Moreshet cable stations, Ben-Tzvi wants large shares of the core market, not merely niches. There is a reason why he has been courting "Ma'ariv" for years, until he finally won it.
The fourth thing is that if it were not profitable, he wouldn’t be there. Ben-Tzvi is not afraid to close, merge, cut, and slam the door behind him on unsuccessful ventures. He will not hesitate to take the knife to "Ma'ariv", if he believes that there is an advantage in doing so.
The fifth fact is that Ben-Tzvi is right wing. He does not conceal this and he is not ashamed of it. Although he has said that he has no intention of merging "Ma'ariv" and "Makor Rishon", "Makor Rishon" has taken a more religious tone and not just a right-wing character since he became its publisher and editor. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that we will also see "Ma'ariv" lean toward the ideologies of its new publisher, if only because he really believes that that is what the people want. He may be right.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 20, 2012
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