Journalist and expert on media law Walter Greenwood dies aged 87

Walter Greenwood, one of the foremost UK experts on journalism law, has died at the age of 87.

Greenwood, who for more than 30 years was, with Tom Welsh, co-author of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists, died at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle yesterday evening. He had been suffering ill health for a year.

He was major force in journalism training, and in advising on British journalistic law for more than 40 years.

Greenwood's period as co-author of McNae’s covered 13 editions of the book, which has long been the standard set text for nearly every journalism training course in the country.  He was still closely connected to McNae’s and wrote the chapter on media law in Northern Ireland for the latest edition.

His duties until recently also included heading the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ law board, helping set the standards of legal competence expected of all trainee journalists.

Greenwood's work with the NCTJ has spanned almost 40 years, making him one of the longest-serving contributors to the organisation’s work.

He was also a consultant to Media Lawyer when it was launched by founding editor Tom Welsh, and continued as a consultant when the title was bought by the Press Association.

Greenwood spent most of his career working for Thomson Regional Newspapers and Trinity Mirror, and as a law training consultant for Press Association Training. He was an assistant editor at Thomson Regional Newspapers when he began co-editing McNae's Essential Law for Journalists.

In the 1960s, when he was already a respected regional journalist, he was asked to help found the Thomson Regional Newspaper Training Centres in Newcastle and Cardiff.

While there he helped train – among many, many others – James Naughtie, Andrew Marr, Lionel Barber, Sally Magnusson, Nic Gowing, and Education Secretary Michael Gove.

He continued to play a part in the work of the Newcastle Centre, now run by Press Association Training. Just a month ago, although by now living in a care home because of his health, he was still checking papers for media law examinations for trainees at the centre.

For years Greenwood also guided editors and reporters on newspapers and in broadcasting operations, nationally and regionally, through the shoals of legal dangers which often threatened to sink their stories.

The Greenwood way was to know as much law as the lawyers so that if you published you might be damned but you would rarely be sued – an approach which has served generations of journalists well.

He always understood that what an editor wanted to know was not why a story should not be published, but how it could be.

In the 2010 British Press Awards he became the first recipient of the Journalists’ Charity Award, recognising outstanding achievement by a journalist.

Greenwood has been a supporter of the charity in one way or another for more than 50 years.

Also in 2010 in received the NCTJ’s Chairman’s Award in recognition of his contributions.

Greenwood started his career as a reporter with the Dewsbury Reporter series, and later joined the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette as deputy news editor.

It was after this that he teamed up with John Brownlee to form the nucleus of the training team that was to become so influential within the Thomson Regional Newspaper group.

Although Mr Brownlee retired some time ago, Greenwood never did, and his interest in the law and in the work of training journalists never dimmed.

When asked to recite a sentence of more than 30 words while being assessed following his recent stroke, he told his fellow law tutor Pat Hagan: “And so I gave them the briefest of introductions to the law of defamation.”

His interests also included a love and appreciation of wine, particularly good red wine. He was also an active member of his church.

With wife Doreen, the couple had no children, lived in the same of area of Newcastle for many years.

One aspect of his life much treasured by his colleagues was the fact that even into his eighties, he would be popping around running errands and doing small acts of kindness for his older neighbours.

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