Spanish newspaper, 1917–1939
The morning daily newspaper El Sol (The sun) was first published in Madrid on 1 December 1917. Its lifespan can be divided into three clearly defined parts. Only during the first period, from the paper’s appearance in 1917 to 25 March 1931, did it play a major role in restoring Spain’s political culture, as well as in shaping the concept of journalism itself. On that latter date its founder, the Basque civil engineer Nicolás María de Urgoiti, was removed by the monarchist shareholders who owned a majority of the company’s stock. These were the days immediately preceding the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic. During the five years of that regime’s tenure (April 1931 to July 1936), when frequent changes in ownership and management took place, El Sol ceased to be a major factor in shaping Spanish public opinion, although it maintained its high standards in news reporting. The third period in the life of El Sol, through the Spanish Civil War, ended with General Franco’s entrance into Madrid. Limited to a secondary role among the Madrid newspapers and with a circulation of merely 25,000, El Sol was at that time controlled by Spain’s Communist Party. In spite of this ideological reversal, the paper held to the same editorial format. Consequently, El Sol’s intellectual history developed almost exclusively during the first of the three periods mentioned above. The main editors and contributors of Urgoiti’s El Sol also founded with him Crisol (1931–32; Crucible) and Luz (1932–34; Light), two newspapers loyal to the policies of the famous daily.
El Sol’s unique role in the history of the Spanish press has its roots in the paper’s foundational purpose, to be instrumental in a cultural renewal involving the whole of Spanish society. “Renovación” (renewal) is indeed the key word for El Sol. After the national disaster of 1898, several attempts were made to promote publications that might help reduce the gap between the country’s slow cultural progress and the demand for modernization. This is the Europeanization of Spain proposed by the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset in such media as the newspaper El Imparcial (The impartial) and the weekly review España. Ortega became the main contributor to El Sol, as well as the mentor of its political stance; it is in the daily that he published as serials some of his most renowned works, such as España invertebrada (1921 [book form]; Invertebrate Spain) and La redención de las provincias (1931 [book form]; The redemption of the provinces).
Within this framework Urgoiti tried to encourage, in the realm of culture, the modernization project that he had previously launched successfully as a civil engineer, by promoting the rationalization of Spain’s paper industry. It was from among the industrialists of this special area that Urgoiti obtained most of the funds for the publication of the newspaper, a circumstance that would eventually cost him control over the daily. It was one thing to accept economic rationalization, but something else to admit political modernization and promote a more European Spain. (For instance, El Sol did not report on bullfights: a strong statement, since bullfights were the most popular pastime in Spain.)
In the process of implementing his project of renewal, Urgoiti was active on three fronts. On the technical level, he produced a newspaper which was up-to-date in its business structure, as well as in the distribution and management of the different sections and even in establishing its own news agency (Febus). Second, he recruited with an open mind contributors to the journal, from a wide range of thinkers of different political persuasion, but committed, as he was, to promoting modernization. Finally, he made clear that El Sol would promote reform by dealing in depth with the political problems of the country while maintaining a position of strict independence from the control or influence of political parties or the administration. This attitude meant, in the daily’s first period, a firm defense of the allies’ cause during World War I, within the polemical climate of neutral Spain.
The management of El Sol operated on two levels. As in any other daily, an editorial board, presided over by the directors (Félix Lorenzo and Manuel Aznar between 1917 and 1931), managed the day-to-day running of the paper, always under the supervision of Urgoiti. The editorial position and the analysis of important questions raised in the political and intellectual fields were discussed within a restricted circle—called “la tertulia de El Sol” or, humorously, “Olympus”—which included Urgoiti and his principal intellectual advisers: Ortega, in the first place, and other prominent figures such as Luis de Zulueta and Francisco Grandmontaigne. The group of regular contributors on the payroll of El Sol comprised most of the outstanding thinkers and writers of the time:
Ortega, Américo Castro, Salvador de Madariaga, Gregorio Marañón, Luis Araquistáin, Fernando de los Ríos, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Ramiro de Maeztu, Gabriel Miró, Ernesto Giménez Caballero, Luis Olariaga, Ramón Pérez de Ayala, Eduardo Gómez de Baquero, Ricardo Baeza. The weight of this important intellectual component is reflected in the front page articles and editorials, the latter accompanied by humorous cartoons, usually by Luis Bagaría. Likewise noteworthy is the sensitivity and care apparent in the
section devoted to book reviews and reports of cultural events.
Like previous attempts at cultural renewal, El Sol’s influence was restricted by the fact that the public interested in a product of such high quality was limited. In an attempt to remedy this problem, it was decided to publish La Voz (The voice), an evening daily of a more popular nature. It first appeared on 1 July 1920, and became El Sol’s companion through all its vicissitudes until the extinction of both papers in 1939. However, they had widely different readers. In 1926 La Voz was selling 110,000 copies against the 80,000 sold by El Sol; the evening daily’s success, however, was mostly confined to Madrid, while only 20 percent of the morning paper’s output was sold in the capital, with the remaining 80 percent sold in the provinces—a fact that underscores El Sol’s role in shaping public opinion on a national level.
In its early days, when Europe was aflame with World War I or immersed in postwar tension, El Sol stood for a democratization of the Spanish monarchy. Later it greeted with positive expectations the rise to power of General Primo de Rivera, who ruled from 1923 to 1930. The initial hope expressed in El Sol, based on the suppression of political corruption, was soon frustrated, however, and gave way to serious questioning of the
need for political change. Finally in 1930, after the fall of the dictator, when the political line followed by King Alfonso XIII had reached a point of no return, El Sol published an article by Ortega that became famous for its closing line, “Delenda est monarchia,” forecasting the imminent demise of the regime. The price Urgoiti paid for this announcement was his exile from El Sol. Paradoxically, when Spain’s regime changed 20 days later, the newspaper, now separated from its founder, main contributors, and editorial board, adhered enthusiastically to the republic. The founding project of cultural renewal was, however, irretrievably lost. The conservative owners appointed Manuel Aznar as director, trying unsuccessfully to establish a bridge with the past. After August 1932, the newspaper executive and entrepreneur Antonio Miquel took over the firm and for some time supported the policies of the republican leader Manuel Azaña. Miquel’s failure led to a new political line with Fernando Vela as director, beginning in February 1934. Throughout these changes, El Sol was losing both money and readers. In July 1934, no more than 5000 copies were sold in Madrid. In the words of the historian Gonzalo Redondo (1970), it was the closing issue of Urgoiti’s El Sol on 25 March 1931 that was really “the final issue of the newspaper.”
MARÍA SOLEDAD CARRASCO
Aubert, Paul, and Jean Michel Desvois, “El So/, un grand quotidien atypique (1917– 1939),” in Typologie de la presse hispanique, edited by D.Bussy Genevois, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2, 1986
Cabrera, Mercedes, La industria, la prensa y la política: Nicolás María de Urgoiti (1869–1951), Madrid: Alianza, 1994
Cabrera, Mercedes, Maria Soledad Carrasco, Rafael Cruz, and Antonio Elorza, “Las fundaciones de Nicolás María de Urgoiti: Escritos y archivos,” Estudios de Historia Social 24–25 (January-June 1983):267–471
Redondo, Gonzalo, Las empresas politicas de Ortega y Gasset, Madrid: Rialp, 2 vols., 1970
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