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Journalism In Spanish America

It could be argued that Spanish American journalism began in 1492 if we consider that the main goal of genres such as the diario de navegación ("logbook"), relación ("account"), or carta de relación ("account letter") was to keep the European imperial authorities informed about the actions of their representatives in the New World. However, it would be more accurate to identify the origins of truly Spanish American journalistic institutions with the sporadic newspapers that circulated in the viceroyalties in the sixteenth century, whose mission was to provide news from Spain to the colonists. Even more important to the development of journalism in Spanish America were the wide variety of gacetas and diarios published at the end of the seventeenth century and through out the eighteenth century such as the Gaceta de México (1667) and Gaceta del Gobierno de Lima (1810).

The Mexicans José Ignacio Bartolache (1739-90) and José Antonio Alzate (1729-99) were particularly active in their efforts to publish periodicals intended to keep their readers up to date in fields such as technology and natural sciences. Many newspapers from Mexico, Central America, and the Andean regions also participated in political or moral debates of their time. Though colonial censorship was strong, the political press grew disseminating subversive republican ideas of French philosophers. The Diario (1783) published in the Viceroyalty of New Granada by Francisco Javier Caro (1750-1822) is memorable indeed for its satires of bureaucracy.

By the end of the eighteenth century, many newspapers openly and critically dealt with politics. When the Revolution of Independence broke out in 1810, first in Caracas and then in Buenos Aires, journalism became a powerful offensive weapon. Simón Bolívar and other rebel leaders knew very well the importance of newspapers. In fact, many founded their own papers or had their proclamations and essays published in a variety of established papers such as La Gaceta de Caracas, El Mercurio Venezolano, El Correo del Orinoco, and La Gaceta de Buenos Aires. Decades later, many individuals from the generation of Independence continued to establish newspapers and magazines. Soon after he settled in Chile, the poet, philologist, and diplomat Andrés Bello began to edit El Araucano (1835-1850), continuing his previous work with literary and scientific periodicals in London.

In addition to the political uses of the press throughout Spanish America in the nineteenth century, literati and journalists began to steadily collaborate in many newspapers of the region. The mere informative or argumentative function of journalism was drastically broadened. José Fernández Lizardi, Andrés Bello, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento are only a few of the major Hispanic authors whose works are deeply connected to journalism. Later in the century, other canonical writers such as José Martí and Rubén Darío would have most of their oeuvre published in newspapers. The influential Darío in particular believed journalism to be a valid means for verbal artists to reach a vast public, and suggested that it could be equated with una gimnasia del estilo ("gymnastics of style.") In the eighteenth century as well, some newspapers included poems among their articles. Later, many other short genres flourished in that hybrid space in which fiction and non-fiction coexisted and often merged. Among these genres were the familiar essay, the artículo de costumbres ("essay of daily manners"), the leyenda ("legend"), the tradición (an essay or short story about Colonial times), the modern short story, and the prose poem.

Many of the same journalistic themes established in the colonial, independence, and republic periods in Spanish America continue in newspapers and periodicals of the twentieth century. Most newspapers, still fond of their literary past, favor a generous participation from novelists, poets and other writers. Outstanding contemporary novelists such as Gabriel García Márquez, Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Ángel Asturias, and Tomás Eloy Martínez, have been professional journalists. Political discourse and propaganda continue to be central themes. In more recent years Spanish American journalism has also had to learn to coexist with crime and violence, predominate in such countries as Guatemala or El Salvador. While it is not easy to summary the varied and distinguished journalistic histories of these distinct countries, it is certain that the press played, and continues to play, a crucial role in the cultural and political evolution of Spanish America.

Miguel Gomes
Department of Modern & Classical Languages
University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT