Obituary: Tom Welsh – Fine liberal of the old school

Tuesday, 13th May 2014

Tom Welsh pictured in the mid 1970s

Published: 13 May, 2014
by ERIC GORDON, Editor of the Camden New Journal

TOM Welsh, who has died at 85, was a fine liberal journalist of the old school with a guiding steely conviction that newspapers must always be prepared to hold authority to account.

He believed passionately in press freedom and of the responsibility journalists bore as they wrote, as it were, the first draft of history.`

After working on daily newspapers in the 1960s he took over the editorship of the Hornsey Journal and went on to launch the Camden Journal in the early 1970s, the precursor of today’s New Journal.

It was Tom who recruited me as news editor of the Camden Journal and its sister paper the Islington Journal.

Though he made a mark as a conscientious and free-thinking journalist wherever he worked, it was after he had successfully ended eight years as editor of the North West Evening Mail in Barrow, that he perhaps established his name throughout the profession and academia by editing, with a colleague, Walter Greenwood, McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists.

Between 1979 and 2007 he and Greenwood issued 17 editions of Essential Law, which became standard textbooks for all journalists.

A few years beforehand he had covered the Democrat Convention  in Chicago which had ended in chaos and brutal mass arrests of veterans of the Vietnam war protesting against US policy.

The attempt by the city’s machine politicians and the police to suppress opposition deeply affected him and he often discussed its implications with me at his then Barnsbury, Islington, home.

Like many journalists he moved from one job to another, working at the Oxford Mail, the now-defunct liberal daily News Chronicle, and the Guardian before taking charge of the North London Press based at Crouch End.

Later he became senior officer for the Inner London Education Authority, the first director of journalism studied at City University and then took over the North West Evening Mail.

After he had established McNae’s textbook, he founded the Media Lawyer newsletter, a more than useful publication for senior journalists.

From time to time I would ring Tom at  home to discuss a particular problem facing the New Journal and  receive, inevitably, the most courteous attention. If he wasn’t too sure of his ground he would discuss the problem with Greenwood, before giving his final advice.

A gentle man with a conscience, he was a journalist imbued with a fine sense of ethics that, lamentably, he found wanting in much of today’s journalism, especially that of the tabloids.

He is survived by his wife Mary and their four children, three of whom became journalists.


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