Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Walter Greenwood: the journalist's legal guide

Walter Greenwood had a huge influence on many generations of journalists. He changed the face of journalism training, was instrumental in the careers of Andrew Marr, James Naughtie, Lionel Barber, Sally Magnusson and Michael Gove and he co-edited Essential Law for Journalists for 30 years. I met Walter a few times and always found him professional, charming and great company. But others knew him far better. So I asked my colleague Tony Johnston to pay tribute to Walter. 

Walter accepts the Journalists' Charity Special Award from Amy Williams and John Humphrys at the Press Awards in 2010

Encyclopaedic knowledge, a love of law and a sharp wit
By Tony Johnston

Tributes have been pouring in from across the world to Walter Greenwood, who helped so many journalists cope with the perils of media law. Walter, who died on Sunday at the age of 87 after a 12-month battle with ill health, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of every statute that can impact on what we publish. Editors and newsdesks would turn to him at all times of day and night, looking for guidance to help them get their stories into print safely.
He helped found the Thomson Regional Newspapers training centre in Newcastle, which I now manage for the Press Association.
He continued to take a close interest in each course, setting exams and teaching Scots Law until last year when he was struck down by serious illness.
He was once asked what his childhood ambitions had been – a career in law or a newsroom? Growing up in Dewsbury, he had only one ambition, was his reply. And that was to get out of Dewsbury.
He joined his local newspaper, the Dewsbury Reporter, at the age of 16.
Two years later, called up for National Service, he hoped to join the RAF and was disappointed to be randomly selected to work as a Bevin Boy. He spent three and a half years in the mines, after which he had no hesitation in returning to his beloved newsroom.
Pat Hagan, law tutor in Newcastle, recalls how his love of work was legendary.
She said: “Holidays would not have been complete without it. His choice of holiday destination was dictated not by the weather or the tourist attractions; it was determined by the availability of his morning copy of The Times and a fax machine, to deal with the law queries that would surely come. And they invariably did.
“Walter had a phenomenal memory, recalling not only every particular of media law, but which page of his beloved Essential Law spelt it out to the rest of us. Asked how it was that he could remember it all in such minute detail, he would concede that when it came to the law, he could usually remember what he needed to; it was in trying to remember what he had had for breakfast that he sometimes faltered. 
“This was not necessarily true. 
“During a long hospital stay just before Christmas, a framed holiday snap of him had been placed on his bedside table. It had been taken more than 30 years ago. Anyone remarking on how dapper and contented he looked would be told the photograph had been taken after a rather long and enjoyable lunch. And what had he had for lunch? Sea bass, was the reply.
As Pat explained, his wit, self-deprecating humour and love of the law persisted through even his final illness.
Encouraged by physiotherapists to exercise his limbs as well as his mind, he gleefully recounted how one hapless young woman had challenged him to construct a sentence of 30 words. And had he been able to manage it? He certainly had; he had “provided a short introduction to the law of libel”. 
Pat said: “Walter took great delight in sharing his legal expertise with trainee reporters – a delight that extended to the point where he appeared to relish the prospect of marking exam scripts, no matter how high the pile or how tight the deadline. Settling himself at a desk at Press Association Training after one particularly tough exam, he produced a light lunch of fresh fruit from his briefcase and proceeded to get down to work. All he needed now was a small glass of red wine and he would be complete, he quipped. A small glass of red wine was quickly secured. 
“And there he stayed until the task was complete, sipping his wine, confounded by yet another trainee who appeared unable to grasp the difference between defamation and contempt. He would make a note of it and resolve to have a quiet word when the time was right.”
Walter is survived by his wife Doreen. They would have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary on October 23.

Other tributes to Walter include the following:

The Evening Chronicle, Newcastle
The Guardian
The Daily Telegraph
The Prolific North
Hold The Front Page
The Press Gazette

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