One must stand up and salute when certain ships sail out to sea, for the last time.
I stand and salute Peter Watson as he unfurled his sails for the final journey home.
He was quite a guy. A dyed-in-the-wool newspaperman, he oversaw the Gloucester Times fortunes through an era that was to be the last of the old-style newspapering days; days that included typesetting, platemaking, scores of reporters, typists, a huge ad base and a folded copy on almost every door stoop in town.
Before the days of computers, the Internet, cable TV, blogs, home-page news sites and the 24-hour news cycle, there was the prince of the realm: the local newspaper. It still had to compete with the Globe and other Boston papers, but geography was on its side — and boy, could they cover the waterfront.
Reporters competed with each other as much as with their rivals. It was a glorious time for the ilk. Joe Garland was still writing his GDT column, stirring up trouble and controversy in his own way. Peter Watson seemed to revel in the breadth of the influence the paper had, carried on from the traditions of the Golden Age of newspapers from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, as well as the traditions of his wave making predecessor, Phil Weld. Neither man was afraid of telling it like it was and, like every newspaperman, they loved a scoop.
I remember Peter most when he was publisher of the paper and Bill McCollough was editor.
Gloucester was under a lot of new development pressure then, and the paper seemed to turn a corner on presenting both sides of the oncoming battles. The first was the Schubb trailer park in West Gloucester, which appeared headed for a whitewash approval until Peter covered the gigantic turnout at City Hall, using wallpaper-sized photos of the balconies stuffed to their creaking limits with angry neighbors. It was the birth of the slower growth consciousness that was to spread.