At the end of the lunch that on Wednesday brought together the staff of EL PAÍS, together with the exhibition dedicated to the 40-year history of the newspaper in Madrid’s Cibeles Palace, the five editors who have been at the helm of the daily blew out a giant candle to celebrate these last decades.
The editors – Juan Luis Cebrián, who was the first and is now the chairman of both the paper and parent group Grupo Prisa; Joaquín Estefanía; Jesús Ceberio; Javier Moreno; and the current chief, Antonio Caño – blew out the candles with gusto, as if they were trying to make the logo-shaped candle fly, and with it, the history of the paper, onto a flight path that, as Cebrián and Caño pointed out during their speeches on Wednesday, will take the publication to a future that, in some way, opened up yesterday. When the candle went out, the editors past and present and all of the 549 attendees – including most of the 332 members of the newsroom – sang Happy Birthday.
In such a context, and in front of so many people, it appeared normal that Caño’s voice would falter, but he held on enough to say that “today is a great day,” a consequence of “a marvelous adventure in freedom.”
In such a context, and in front of so many people, it appeared normal that editor Antonio Caño’s voice would falter, but he held on enough to say that “today is a great day
He reinforced the values that have always made EL PAÍS contemporary – a paper that has been committed to democracy since it was brought into existence by José Ortega Spottorno, Jesús Polanco and Cebrián himself.
Now, explained Caño in his speech to the assembled staff, “EL PAÍS is a digital newspaper, a great digital newspaper, and it is a printed newspaper, a great printed newspaper.”
In reference to the fears of some with regard to the digital transformation, he said: “We are not going to stop ahead of any kind of innovation that helps us get to more people, to improve what we offer, and to continue being a reference point in terms of quality and rigor. While we are proud of our past, we have irreversibly arrived in the future.”
For his part, Cebrián spoke “from his heart and his guts.” He explained how he had been persecuted in the worst moment of Spain’s Transition to democracy: he has been accused of being a KGB spy; his house was searched in the hunt for Antonio María Oriol Urquijo, who was kidnapped by Maoist terrorist group First of October Anti-Fascist Resistance Groups (GRAPO) in 1976; he was accused of stealing money from Canal+… And now there is a “small revolution,” which neither concerns him nor would he be addressing. In the face of this little revolution – in reference to the accusations in certain media outlets that he is linked to the so-called “Panama Papers” – he contrasted this “very important moment for Spain,” in which EL PAÍS is playing a key role “in a society that is ever more confused.”
EL PAÍS is a product of teamwork. “Thousands of people have created it, and it has reached millions of readers,” Cebrián explained. The names of those former employees who have passed away were shown on a projection screen, but Cebrián chose to focus on one in particular: Andrés Fraguas, a mail room employee who was killed in 1978, when a far-right group sent a parcel bomb to EL PAÍS. That death, Cebrián explained, had always stayed with him.
Cebrián also recalled when Jesús Polanco, the former chief of Grupo PRISA, warned him that EL PAÍS had many enemies. “But we have more friends,” Cebrián pointed out on Wednesday. In the last 40 years, EL PAÍS has sold 5.2 billion copies, it has more than 60 million digital users every month and counts on 12 million followers on the social networks.
With a glass of cava, the chairman and first editor of EL PAÍS raised a toast, to the cry of “Happy Birthday!” Moments later the song was sung, before the candle was blown out in the presence of those who work to create what is now the biggest newspaper in Spanish in the world.