El Español The Scourge of the Establishment

Pedro J. Ramírez, founder of Spanish newspaper El Mundo, is launching an online news platform that will take on Spain's elite – and stay independent from corporate advertisers.
Star journalist Pedro Ramirez, seen here at a fashion show of his wife, designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

Pedro J. Ramírez likes to think big. The founder and long-standing editor-in-chief of the Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo is aiming to create a new journalism platform that is investigative, digital and, of course, profitable.

El Español, as his new project is called, already has €18 million ($19.8 million) in seed capital, 72 editors and 9,000 paying subscribers in advance of an October start.

The online medium, which will launch this fall, wants to be a counterweight to the political establishment because, Mr. Ramírez said, efforts to limit freedom of the press have been going on for years in Spain.

“In Spain, there is a concentration of power,” he told Handelsblatt. “The politicians control the judges, and if the press does not keep an eye on it, then it is difficult to do something against the reigning corruption.”

Spanish media is under financial pressure from the growth in Internet news. Seven years of financial crisis have also taken their toll, with the result that it is too reliant on revenue from corporate advertisers. These important industries including telecommunications, energy and banks are in turn state-regulated and dependent on politics.

Mr. Ramírez has gathered his editorial staff outside Madrid's center, which should allow it to operate freely.

At first glance, the newsroom on the seventh floor of an office building looks like a cafeteria with long, waist-high tables and stools. Only on second glance are computer monitors visible. The seating height will make discussions easier, Mr. Ramírez said.

With his wide, blue suspenders, the 63-year-old Mr. Ramírez may look a bit old fashioned compared to his young editors, but the passionate newsman is one of Spain's best known journalists. He has carved out a name for himself over the years with his hard-hitting investigative stories. At 28, he became the editor-in-chief of the Diario 16 newspaper. Nine years later, he founded one of largest daily newspapers in the country, El Mundo, which he led for 25 years.

In Spain, there is a concentration of power. The politicians control the judges, and if the press does not keep an eye on it, then it is difficult to do something against the reigning corruption. Pedro J. Ramírez

His last scoop, however, wound up costing him his position. El Mundo fired Mr. Ramírez in January 2014, just a few months after he published private What's App-messages from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which suggested the nation’s leader knew about one of the largest corruption scandals in country’s history. Nothing concrete was proven. The government insists it did not play a role in Mr. Ramírez's departure.

Mr. Ramírez fought over the terms of his exit most of last year until, finally, he received a €5.6 million settlements. He invested all the proceeds into his new project. After that, it became easier to find other investors, who ponied up an additional €12 million.

“I wanted the project to have a social basis and for many people from around the world to participate in the foundation,” Mr. Ramírez said, adding there is no danger he will become dependent on his new investors. “We have not accepted any large companies, although we had inquiries.”

The channel will be updated 24 hours per day. The focus of the stories will be on politics and the economy, with some coverage of culture and sports. A subscription will cost €120 per year. Mr. Ramírez believes quality journalism on the Internet only functions properly when it offers paid content.

Even critics give Mr. Ramírez credit for being politically independent. But he was not always a government critic and reportedly had close ties with José Maria Aznar, Spain’s prime minister from 1999 to 2004.

El Español will launch shortly before parliamentary elections in the winter and it is widely expected that Mr. Ramírez’s operation will lead the public debate.

Video: Pedro Ramirez's goodbye speech at El Mundo.

Sandra Louven is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Madrid. To contact: [email protected]