Life story

Life Story: Mike Watson: A (Generally) Gentle Man of Good Journalism

Journalist Mike Watson has spent over two decades working in the media across New Zealand.

Andy Jackson / Stuff

Journalist Mike Watson has spent over two decades working in the media across New Zealand.

Journalists Jim Tucker and Glenn McLean remember their classmate and colleague Mike Watson.

LIFE HISTORY: The death of Taranaki’s fellow journalist Mike Watson reminds me of the saying “a contradiction in terms” – as it applied to Superman.

Apparently, the superhero’s alter ego, Clark Kent, was a “mild-mannered journalist.” But nothing like that, of course. As unlikely as a shy insurance salesman.

It suited Mike, however, who was 63 when he died. Without needing to fly or wear a cape, he was as good a reporter as any of the thousands I have known or taught. His heroism was all the better for being silent.

Any doubts about this even-tempered man when he took a journalism degree from Taranaki (now Witt) Polytechnic in 1998 were dispelled when we pitted the two halves of the class against each other to report a invented weather disaster.

Mike was one of the writers. He led calmly and with precision…until late in the day when it looked like his team was going to be picked up.

A hellish and damned Fleet St-style character emerged, screaming for his proteges to pull themselves together. After the shock, we were like, “Yeah, Mike will be fine.”

The youngest of the family of Inglewood GP Dr Bob Watson, he became a respected local government and sports reporter for various Bay of Plenty newspapers such as Things reporter from the center of the North Island in Taupō, a passage to the Marlborough Express and lately on Taranaki Daily Newswhere he covered Taranaki Regional Council.

Given what comes out of the grounds of Parliament, it is interesting to consider the domestic character of New Zealand’s news media.

Taranaki Daily News senior reporter Glenn McLean – Mike’s closest friend in that journalism class – takes over at this point to say more about the type of people who report our news.

For starters, there will be a number of new generation journalists who might challenge our former mentor’s title, as well as some who have been running the bureaucratic sauce for decades.

Mike might not be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but there was something simmering and boiling over if left on the stove too long.

He admitted it himself as he lay in a hospital bed, a victim of the true extent of the disease he had refused to fully acknowledge for so long.

“I just thought everyone saw me as a grumpy bastard,” he said after reading a card written by the last of his work colleagues.

Well, yes, many of them did. But they also saw the integrity with which he worked as he battled nostalgic thoughts of days gone by, when newsrooms were full of layers of staff and dark humor coexisted with political incorrectness.

However, Mike adapted, albeit at his own pace. He scrutinized the diaries as closely as the rugby matches he loved, while he was never afraid to join a meeting with like-minded contacts for whom time was never an issue.

Being popular was never high on Mike’s to-do list, as he rarely, if ever, backed down from an argument, no matter the enemy.

Time may not have been on his side in the end, but he went to his grave unrepentant in his approach.

Since his death there have been many tributes, including some from those in office in different parts of the country who were shocked by the passing of ‘Little Scoop’.

The news will continue. Maybe it’s just a little softer.

Jim Tucker is a regular contributor to the Taranaki Daily News and Glenn McLean is a reporter in the office of Taranaki Stuff.

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