Guy Hedgecoe, editor of Iberosphere, on the faded glory of El País and Madrid’s lack of spectacle

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe loves Madrid, “in the way you love certain members of your family even though they annoy you,” he laughs.

“I think I’ve spent enough time in Madrid to really understand it. I know the things I like, I know the things I don’t like and despite all that, I’m still here. So I must love it. Or I’m completely nuts.”

The editor of the English language news analysis site Iberosphere and former editor of the English edition of El País arrived here nearly a decade ago and now calls this city home.

Originally from just southwest of London, Guy found that adopting the Spanish lifestyle came rather easily to him; he knew the language from the 5 years he lived in Ecuador covering Andean news and already had a few friends from the time he spent in Spain as a student in the mid-90s.

“I like the lifestyle in Spain,” he says. “I wouldn’t call myself Spanish by any means but I would call myself a Madrileño. I’ve spent more time in this city more than any other city that I’ve lived in. Above all, I just knew it was a place I was comfortable in. Not just Madrid, but Spain overall.”

But as easy as the transition into Spanish culture was for him, Guy says there are a few things he still has a little trouble dealing with.

“The thing about Madrid I still find hard to get used to is you don’t look around and see a big river or a coast or even a mountain or something like you do in Barcelona or most other big cities — like Caracas or Paris where you see some great landmark or a natural feature. It gives you kind of a feeling of knowing where you are geographically, or even a feeling of openness if you’re by the sea. That you know where you are. I kind of miss that.”

In Madrid, he says, “you’re in this urban place.”

“I don’t think Madrid is like Paris or Rio de Janeiro or these places that have these obvious things where you walk around and you see the Eiffel Tower and you think, ‘What a wonderful city this is because of that.’ Madrid is not a place where you see things. It’s a place where you live things. You feel them.”

“I think that’s something that people who arrive here have to accept whether they’re tourists or whether they’re going to live here — that you don’t so much look at Madrid and go, ‘Wow!’ You have to sort of let it sink in a bit and live it. Madrid is an experience rather than a spectacle.”

On El País

Guy rose quickly through the ranks at El País, starting off as just another journalist and then becoming deputy editor after a few months. Guy was later promoted to editor of the English edition of the national newspaper, a position he held for 3 years.

In his recent article titled “The importance of being El País”, Guy talks about how the newspaper’s once “legendary aura” has faded — its status as a respected, sophisticated publication in its own right reduced to that of a wannabe Financial Times.

“I don’t have anything particular against El País. I think if I’d written it the day after leaving, I wouldn’t have necessarily felt very objective about it. I felt at the time that I’d had enough distance,” he says about his piece.

“I still have reservations about El País, especially in light of its current situation — the fact that it’s going to be letting off a third of its workforce in the coming weeks.”

Público, the paper edition, has gone under so it’s basically disappeared. The website still exists. It’s a shame that the paper edition has gone under because it was kind of a nice counterbalance for the left-wing of Spain’s media spectrum. El País is really the only other newspaper of note — the only other national newspaper that leans to the left. And it doesn’t always lean to the left.”

“I worry that if El País goes down that road, then what are we left with? We’re left with La Razón, ABC and El Mundo, who don’t necessarily have all the same views but they’re all coming from the same place.”

Conquering the Iberosphere

Just a few months after leaving El País, Guy started Qorreo with Andrew Eatwell, whom he had worked with at the national newspaper before.

“Qorreo started off as a very small project. I said to Andrew one day, ‘I’m thinking about doing a blog because now I’m freelance and I’d like to have somewhere to post my thoughts about Spain to sell myself as a freelance journalist.’”

“He said, ‘Let’s do it together,’ and it kind of snowballed.”

A year later in 2011, they relaunched the brand as Iberosphere, a term Andrew coined as part of Qorreo’s original tagline: News about Spain, Portugal and the Iberosphere.

Guy with Iberosphere on a tablet

Iberosphere’s front page on a tablet

“We were both very interested in analysis rather than just offering news because we felt there was so much news out there anyway, whether it’s from the BBC or the English edition of El País or whatever it is. We were both more interested in analysis: what does this stuff mean? Where is all this going?”

Currently on Iberosphere’s front page, stories about the Basque and Gallego elections, Spain’s austerity measures, the Catalan crisis, and the necessity of the crisis for the Socialists are some of the issues deftly analyzed and commented on by Iberosphere’s small team of writers.

So what’s on the horizon for Iberosphere? “We want to become the obvious place for people to go to if they want serious information about Spain and Spanish news,” Guy says.

“Whether it’s an analyst in New York, we want them to feel that’s the place they can go to where there are people on the ground who live here, who understand it, but who understand the demands of analysis.”

“But we certainly want to be accessible enough for expats who don’t really read news obsessively every day.”

It looks like Guy’s vision for his fledgling website is right on target as Iberosphere has already been cited and referenced by international news organizations including The Economist, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Slate and even Guy’s old employer, El País.

Anna Bitanga

About Anna Bitanga

I've been living in Madrid since 2007, married to a madrileño since 2008, and mom to our son since 2011. Tech is my thing. I love salmorejo, matrimonios and cazón adobado. I don't watch football.

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