Yesterday those present said that when on October 8, 2021, he was handed over to the family of Antonio Franco the Posthumous Official Journalist Award, they asked themselves What would the new generations of journalists remember? of the giant of the profession who had physically disappeared that September 25. What a legacy he would leave. The answers are many: a way of exercising direction and understanding journalism as a service; a generation of professionals trained in his shadow; EL PERIÓDICO DE CATALUNYA… They are collected in the book that began to take shape that day (‘Antonio Franco, a giant of journalism’), published by the Col.legi de Periodistes de Catalunya and presented this Tuesday in the auditorium of the Espai Francesca Bonnemaison, given the impossibility of fitting the attendees into the collegiate headquarters. And they were recounted by family, friends and colleagues who gathered to remember him.
What remains of Antonio Franco in EL PERIÓDICO: in the words of its current director, Albert Saez, a lot. First, understand that journalism must “continually reinvent itself” and not only as a business model but “to better serve people.” And to do so by adapting at each moment a model that surpassed the canonical division of informative-interpretive and popular-sensationalist press: “Make a newspaper that explained the themes of the first of them, so that people understood it.” Second, do it with “rigor.” And third, “non-neutrality; a newspaper has to say things and do so based on certain values.” In short, that is the legacy: “A non-neutral newspaper, which is sustained by rigor and in the service of readers.”
“There is no one who has loved El Periódico so much,” said the son of the newspaper’s first director, Andreu Franco, who received a standing ovation from the audience. He remembered him (football and political discussions aside) that he was “honest, brave and visionary.” That he made the top competition tired of picking up informative balls from the back of the net. And that he gave up the offer to join her. That his head did not roll despite Pujol and Aznar “and he could decide when to leave the first line.” “And that 3% that Maragall said because he read it in an editorial by my father, and it was the beginning of the end of pujolism.”
The total journalist
Voice problems prevented him from speaking José Antonio Sorolla, who was its editor-in-chief and deputy director, in ‘El Periódico’ and in the Catalan edition of ‘El País’, side by side for 30 years as he recalled Xavier Casinos (book coordinator along with himself Sorolla, Xavier Vidal-Folch, Núria de José Gomar and Xavier Puig). For Sorolla, Franco was “the total journalist”, “capable of inventing a newspaper like EL PERIÓDICO, writing an editorial like the one that sparked the 3% controversy”, betting on information “of what is important and interesting”, converting that ‘El País’ of Barcelona “not in a delegation but an integrated editorial office” in a medium born in Madrid or conceiving the editorial office (in this the times are not the same) as “a centralized machinery.” Rosa Mora, classmate Regis Debray from the Church’s journalism school, remembered him as, even then, a “leader.” And years later, “a fan of ideas, who knew how to get good things out of people.”
Who was also a member of the founding team and first correspondent of EL PERIÓDICO in London, Rosa Massagué, added a counterpoint. “Franco was a son of his time,” and the role of women in their editorial staff was limited, although his deputy José Antonio Sorolla often advocated for them (in addition to stopping the boss’ outbursts with those affected). But in the midst of #MeToo, remember, he did something that is usually difficult, recognizing his mistakes. “I think that our generation in this matter has made a lot of mistakes and we have done badly,” he told her one day, years after leaving the management.
Xavier Vidal-Folch was one of those included in a collective “we’re leaving” but pronounced by Antonio Franco when part of the founding team of EL PERIÓDICO marched to launch the Barcelona edition of ‘El País’ (many of them made a ‘we’re back’ following Franco again from 1988). “But he was very careful not to destroy the team, there were very good people left,” he warns. In his opinion, his innovation was “talking about unofficial life” and his charisma, that of “an organizer”, a “stonecutter” both for the intensity of his work and for his “forceful” articles, in which “there was no nothing banal.”
The book with which the Vaixells de Paper collection of the CpC has exceptionally resurrected explains who Antonio Franco was. Through two syntheses by professors of the history of journalism such as Josep Maria Casasús and Jaume Guillamet, which remembers him as the author of “the Catalan newspaper of the Transition”, of the Catalan edition of EL PERIÓDICO 15 years before any similar attempt and “without sympathy or moral support from the Generalitat of Jordi Pujol”, two key interviews (by Josep M. Muñoz and Jaume Fabre, published at the time in ‘L’Avenç’ and ‘Capçalera’), from the articles that were written after his death (by Màrius Carol, Iosu de la Torre, José A. Sorolla, Emilio Pérez de Rozas, Xavier Vidal-Folch, Lluís Bassets, Andreu Missé, Pere Rusiñol, Juan Luis Cebrián, Soledad Gallego-Díaz, Joaquin Estefanía, Ramon Besa, José Sanclemente and Xavier Roig). And even more, through an anthology of articles published for 37 years in EL PERIÓDICO (until the last one he signed, ‘The most difficult yet for the press’, only 12 days before his death), in ‘El País’, in ‘Diario de Barcelona’, in ‘ElDiario.es’, ‘El Maresme’, in ‘El Papus’ and in ‘Jóvenes’, and there would still be more to come ‘Barabbas’. Because as the professor at the University of Valencia, María Iranzo, recalled, one of his lessons is that “neither satirical journalism nor sports journalism… nor Elche are second-rate.”
On stage were, to speak, Sáez, Vidal-Folch, Mora, Massagué and Casinos. In the Sorolla stalls. Many who for him were “bandits”, listening. And just as the force of gravity is inexorable and makes things fall downwards and not upwards, and what cannot be cannot be and is also impossible, Emilio Pérez de Rozas, off script and with your article ‘We’re still here, boss, bothering’ still hot on the newspaper’s website, he spoke. “He was like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, we followed him. He had complicity with people and he was so good that he was not afraid to surround himself with the best because none of them would reach the soles of his shoes.” And he was not complacent. “He would go down to the editorial office, although I think he should have done it more, he would approach the sports section and tell us what the hell section we were doing.” As? “No one has called me to complain in months,” he said.
Once everything was over (we wouldn’t explain it to someone else, but I’m sure it won’t bother him, come on, what am I saying, quite the opposite), Emilio cried in the lobby disconsolately: “How great he was.”