Welsh was not only the most prolific blogger in Indianapolis, he was one of the oldest (starting in 2005, even before me) and certainly one of the most controversial.
He also had a strong claim to make for himself as being the most important working journalist in Indianapolis.
I never met Welsh in person. He was a gay Republican with strong Tea Party views expressed in a style of nearly perpetual moral indignation. While he was no fan of local Democrats, he had as much if not more ire for his fellow Republicans, whom he saw as being part of a bipartisan kleptocracy. He was also known for posting tin-foil hat style conspiracy theories in which the CIA loomed large.
Gary always struck me as one of those colorful characters that makes a city a city, not just an overgrown small town. Whatever people might think of them, cities are always diminished when they pass away or leave.
What distinguished Gary was that despite some of his crackpot ideas, he did an amazing amount of original investigative journalism, and broke many stories over the years. I myself on infrequent occasions would send him tips when the topic might be too hot for me to personally write about. I presume many others did similarly, using Welsh as a back channel outlet for news that would otherwise not be reported. I had a very well respected local reporter tell me not long ago that more than one of Welsh’s local stories and theories checked out.
The thing I always liked about Welsh’s framing of stories is that he focused on the history of people and their connections to each other. This is something you rarely see in journalism today outside of purely political connections. He’d note, for example, that so and so was married to the daughter of a particularly influential poobah. Or that certain people were college roommates, or how they were aides of former politicians recycling in and out of particular politically connected firms.
Now, how much of this was actually accurate? I don’t know. I presume most of the connection info was factually correct or someone would have corrected it. I do believe he probably overplayed the significance of relationships since even in a city as large as Indianapolis, everybody is connected to everybody at some level. But he told a stories in the way that few journalists do today in the local media world. The kinds of stories you typically find in long form magazine profiles.
While he may have done it imperfectly, Gary Welsh was doing important journalistic work that will not get done anymore. The decline of newspapers means that staffs and budgets for journalists have fallen dramatically. Too often today, esp. at chain newspapers like those owned by Gannett, reporters and editors are rotated in and out among various cities, and don’t necessarily have deep knowledge of a place, the people, and their connections. Also, there’s very little stomach today for papers in smaller markets to pick a fight with city government and the local establishment. Bloggers like Welsh with a fearless spirit and some political history to inform it helped fill that gap.
Speaking of the decline of journalism, you’ll notice that neither I nor others I have seen commenting on this have provided an overview of Gary’s body of work. That’s a shame. Somebody should really go back and put together a greatest hits article highlighting his greatest scoops, his best rants, his craziest conspiracy theories, and even his best obituaries. (Welsh didn’t hesitate to criticize the recently deceased, so certainly does not mind the mixed feelings with which many are writing about him today). There’s just so much stuff that it would be a big task. The fact that it probably won’t be done testifies to how needed his work was and how much it will be missed.
Update: Fellow political blogger Paul Ogden posted his tribute to Gary Welsh.