Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond is among those to have paid tribute to Press and Journal farming editor Joe Watson who has died aged 43.
Watson had been farming editor of the Aberdeen-based daily for 18 years and died after collapsing at his home last Thursday.
Salmond said: “He has been taken from us at a tragically early age.
“It’s hard to believe we’ll never again see that burly figure, with his ubiquitous tweed jacket at the Turra Show.”
Watson, who was a bachelor, had been in ill-health for some weeks although it had not stopped him working. He had suffered ill-health on and off for a number of years and at one stage had rapidly undergone a significant weight loss.
Damian Bates, editor-in-chief of The Press and Journal, told readers: “Joe was not only a brilliant journalist who travelled all over Scotland, the UK and Europe to cover farming matters, but he was also a great friend to us all and a really important part of The Press and Journal family.
“Joe was a beautiful human being, a gentle giant and a skilled reporter who knew his subject inside and out. I can’t believe he’s been taken away from us – we’re all heartbroken.”
The Press and Journal led its front page on Saturday with the news of his death plus a large picture and it devoted the entire front page of its regular Saturday farming pull-out to a picture of Watson. There were a further three pages inside of tributes.
Watson lived in his home town of Turriff with his widowed mother, Mirren whose husband Joe died last year.
Watson began his career on his local weekly newspaper, the Turriff Advertiser. He then joined the Press and Journal at its Banff district office, and subsequently switched to the Dundee Courier and Advertiser in Montrose before becoming editor of the weekly Mearns Leader in Stonehaven.
He returned to the Press and Journal as its farming editor in 1996, aged 26, and earned a reputation as one of the most prolific and respected agricultural journalists in the UK. He was also business editor of the regional morning for five years.
He was instrumental in developing his paper’s agricultural coverage through the weekly farming pull-out which expanded to 16 pages last year. He was also a keen photographer – a pursuit he latterly adopted professionally for his newspaper.
Watson was a member of the executive of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalist (IFAJ) until early this year and he was the main reason its annual Congress will be held in Aberdeen this year for the first time in 40 years. North-east Scotland will be welcoming close to 250 agriculture journalists from 50 countries in September.
Watson was three times the winner of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists (BGAJ) regional newspaper agricultural editor of the year award and was involved in it in many roles – including two years as chairman.
The BGAJ's chairwoman Jane Craigie said: “His was a great character, a prolific writer, often controversial but always proud of his principled stand, he had the courage of his convictions and was a better journalist for that.
“His role most recently was as the British executive representative to the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. He was well respected by the wider IFAJ executive for his straight-talking and his staunch stand as a principled journalist. We will miss him, his sense of humour and his input.
“Joe won The Press and Journal the Stuart Seaton Award for the best farming content in a regional newspaper.”
Ewan Pate, farming editor of the Dundee Courier and Advertiser, said: “The members of the Scottish agricultural press are a close-knit group who often hunt as a pack.
“When it came to asking difficult questions and winkling out the truth, no one was as determined as Joe. That was a mark of his professional approach to journalism as was his willingness to criss-cross the country in search of a good story.
“We often travelled together and he was always the best of company, making even the longest journey seem shorter.”
Deputy editor of the Scottish Farmer weekly Ken Fletcher said: “He won many awards for both his news reporting and his campaigning style – championing agriculture in the North-east of Scotland.”