Maariv was founded in 1948, under the name Yediot Maariv, by a number of journalists and editors—led by Azriel Carlebach—who had left Yediot Aharonot following a conflict with that publication’s publisher, Yehudah Mozes. Among the founders were also Shalom Rosenfeld, Shmuel Schnitzer, David Lazar, David Giladi, Uri Keisari, and Aryeh Dissenchik. The paper declared that it would be owned by its workers, and would be independent of both wealthy backers and political parties. The establishment of Maariv rapidly brought about a decline in readers of Yediot Aharonot, while prompting a parallel steep rise in readers of the new publication (30,000 copies a day). A court order compelled the paper to change its name from Yediot Maariv (which suggested that it was the rightful successor to Yediot Aharonot) to Maariv (which remained the paper’s name even after it had become a morning newspaper. Two prominent writers who joined this group of founders were Moshe Zak and Yehoshua Yustman. Towards the end of 1948, Maariv had already published one of its biggest scoops: “Abdallah Calls for Peace with Israel.”
The Ben Ami and Hafetz families bought half the shares of the publishing company responsible for Maariv, Modi’in Publishing House Ltd. The paper’s editorial staff was made up of many of the paper’s original founders, and for a long period no new members were included. The number of pages included in each issue of Maariv expanded gradually. From a very early stage the paper included humorous corners and amusing sections and magazines, together with the use of images as news in their own right ; thus, for example, an edition from August 1949—focusing on the reinterment in Israel of Theodore Herzl’s remains—comprised 12 pages, three times the number of a regular issue. The very next day the paper devoted the entire first page to a photograph of Herzl’s coffin and a brief caption. From its inception until the mid-1970s, Maariv was the most widely-distributed daily paper in Israel. The political-ideological line adopted by the paper may be characterized as Rightist -Zionist. Carlebach, the paper’s first editor, was an opponent of Mapai; Dissenchik, his successor, was one of the founders of the Betar movement; and the paper’s third editor, Shalom Rosenfeld, was a member of Betar’s leadership in Poland, responsible for the radio news broadcasts of the Revisionist military organization (Etzel), as well as a journalist for the Revisionist movement’s daily paper, Ha-Mashkif
. Thus, among other positions, during the 1950s Maariv objected to the reparations agreement with Germany. In the 1960s, during the public battle surrounding the “scandal,” following the exposure of the Israeli network in Egypt during the 1950s, the paper adopted a stance in opposition to Ben-Gurion. Maariv’s fourth editor was Shmuel Schnitzer, and the fifth was Ido Dissenchik, the son of the paper’s second editor.
Ephraim Kishon joined the paper in 1952, writing a steady, satirical column entitled “Chad Gadya”; this section continued to be published for thirty years, and during the first twenty it appeared on a daily basis. In 1953 Kariel Gardosh (Dosh) joined the paper’s staff, where, for many years he published daily political caricatures; the character of “Srulik” which he created became identified with the concept of the “Sabra.” Joseph (Tomi) Lapid joined Maariv in 1955, initially as Carlebach’s personal secretary, and later as a writer and publicist. Among other things, Lapid established and edited the monthly publication At, from Beit Maariv.
In 1958 a weekly publication for teenagers, entitled Maariv L’No’ar, was established, and it obtained a vast readership. In celebration of the paper’s tenth anniversary, Ben-Gurion wrote a special article in which he stated: “This paper needs to be here for the renewal and integration of the land and the people.” From 1959 the paper began to be shipped to New York and sold there as well. In September 1961 Maariv published Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “Babi Yar” as part of the main headline. In 1962 the paper added its first magazine, Yamim V’Leilot, relating to the theater, music, and entertainment, which was included on Fridays. During this period, the broad scope of Maariv’s coverage of events, both in Israel and abroad, was remarkable—particularly compared to that of other newspapers.
During the 1960s the number of writers and editors from the paper’s younger generation who moved into senior positions increased significantly, particularly among regular correspondents in the United States, London, and Paris, in addition to journalists who worked for the paper from various locations around the world. Among the various innovations implemented by Maariv may be noted the weekly interview with prominent individuals which was edited first by Rafael Bashan and later by Dov Goldstein. Not long after Operation Kadesh, the magazine Ba-Machaneh was added to Maariv, and Uri Dan, the paratrooper and military writer, joined the paper’s writing staff and quickly won great renown as a military correspondent. His position was taken over by Eli Landau—also a paratrooper—who accompanied the paratroop division that captured the Temple Mount during the Six-Day War. In turn, he was succeeded by Yaacov Erez, who later became the paper’s editor. Among the paper’s senior editors during this period may be counted Levi Yitzhak Hayerushalmi, Yuval Elizur, Avraham Tirosh, and Gabriel Strassman, who was appointed the first journalism ombudsman in Israel. For many years Moshe Zak edited the paper’s Friday supplement and the Yamim V’Leilot magazine; he also served as the paper’s representative to the United Nations. Joseph Harif served as political commentator for the paper. Later on, all of the senior editors participated in writing the paper’s editorials, which—apart from those written during the period of the first editor, Dr. Azriel Carlebach—remained unsigned.
Over the years, mainly young editors and writers joined the paper. Prominent figures that joined the paper during the 1960s and 1970s included Menachem Talmi, Moshe Dor, Moshe Shamir—who for several years also served as editor of the paper’s literary supplement, Hanoch Bartov, public personality Geula Cohen, and the author Yoram Kaniuk. It is worth noting the unusual phenomenon that five of Maariv’s journalists later went on to become members of the Knesset: Geula Cohen, Moshe Shamir, Ariel Weinstein, Yossi Ahimeir, and Joseph “Tomi” Lapid, who also served as Minister of Justice under the administration of Ariel Sharon. The poet Moshe Ben-Shaul worked for Maariv and once a year Uri Zvi Greenberg published new poems in the paper. Abba Ahimeir and Menachem Begin both published articles in Maariv. The heads of state published their memoirs and thoughts in the Maariv Library.
In the 1970s, Maariv expanded the space allotted to opinion pieces and magazine articles, as a response to the loss of its pre-eminence in reporting caused by the rise of electronic media. In 1975 Maariv began to include daily magazines on weekdays—relating to youth, sports, style, vacations, television guides, business transactions and more—in which colored print was introduced to the paper. The first color photographs to be included in the news pages were of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Conference in Cairo. Upon the signing of the peace treaty, Maariv led with a headline including a graphic image of the word “peace” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
At the beginning of the 1970s, both Maariv and Yediot Ahronot enjoyed a major increase in readership, as a combined result of Israel’s growing population and the decline of foreign and political-party publications. In 1975 Maariv was still the most widely distributed paper in Israel (as established by its tagline until the mid-1980s, well-past the time when such a claim was true: “The Most Popular Paper in Israel”), and its daily exposure rating was on average 56%; however, by the end of the decade Yediot Ahronot had become the most circulated publication in Israel and for the first time since the 1950s-1960s, its circulation surpassed that of Maariv.
In 1987 the editor Ido Disenchik implemented a comprehensive change in the paper’s layout and design, with the goal of once again increasing circulation; however, this attempt was not successful. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Maariv’s circulation decreased to 100,000 copies or less a day—a third of Yediot Ahronot’s circulation at that time; indeed, in 1990 distribution of Maariv’s Friday issues only reached about a quarter. Over the years, Maariv was home to several of the most important journalists who later moved on to other communication media: Amnon Abramovitch, Yair Lapid, and Emmanuel Rosen. Ben Kaspit also joined the paper. In 1988 Robert Maxwell, the British media magnate, purchased a quarter of the paper’s shares, and in the early 1990s he became Maariv’s main owner, thus fundamentally changing the paper’s ownership structure and promising control to the journalists. The paper’s layout changed many times during this period and colored printing presses were introduced. Maxwell brought in Dov Yudkovsky, his relative and previously a successful editor of Yediot Ahronot, in an attempt to pull from the latter’s readership. However, during that same period another newspaper, Hadashot, established an early-morning distribution system, which both Maariv and Yediot Ahronot promptly adopted as well, the implementation of which led to a change in method from sales in newsstands to fixed subscriptions, and overall Maariv’s change in layout had no effect.
In 1992 the Nimrodi family purchased Maariv, and for three years the publisher, Ofer Nimrodi, served as the paper’s chief editor. In the early 1990s the Maariv Group began to publish a number of local newspapers (among them Zman Tel-Aviv). Perhaps Maariv's most significant reports during the 1990s were the "Silicone in Milk" affair (1995) and the exposure of the fact that the State of Israel was holding property belonging to Holocaust victims (1999). In the first decade of the 21st century, under the editorship of Amnon Dankner, the paper had an increase in distribution, but it remained significantly behind Yediot Ahronot. Under Dankner's leadership articles were shortened, the space for photographs was increased, and a portion of the main headlines was dedicated to events unconnected to politics, such as sports. In June 2004 Maariv launched a new website, "Maariv nrg." Following the Second Intifada, the paper adopted a Rightist and security-oriented position and led the offensive against what it called the "Radical Left" and "Post-Zionists," with the particular help of Amnon Dankner, and Dan Margalit (who returned to the paper in 2001).