Extra! Read all about it! A peek behind a bit of history

by Jeff Lytle

There has been only one of them in the history of the Naples Daily News.

And there will never be another one.

I had almost forgotten about the peculiar bit of history until I cleaned out a closet the other day, preparing for a document-shredding security event in our neighborhood.

There it was, hiding underneath some magazines.“EXTRA,” declared the top headline printed August 7, 1986.

Below, “Benson Guilty” was shouted in even larger type. Steve Benson had been on trial for one of Collier County’s most sensational crimes. He was convicted of gathering three-family members for a drive to look at real estate – and detonating a bomb while he went back inside for something at his mother’s Quail Creek home. An aerial photo showed the lovely home with along driveway marred by mangled car wreckage.

His sister was badly injured but survived to testify. Her son and his mother died. Investigators said Steve was trying to get control of family wealth.

Now-retired Daily News columnist Brent Batten was covering the trial and verdict announcement in a courtroom in Fort Myers.

He called the news desk in Naples – when the Daily News still was headquartered on Central Avenue, where condos now rule –after the jury issued its decision at 1:30 p.m.

Now, here is where things got tricky. The newspaper in those days was still an afternoon publication, which meant going to press around noon.

The newsroom staff was well aware of what could happen if the verdict came back any time later than that. We would have to wait a full day to report on a huge story that commanded readers ’attention. The Fort Myers News-Press, then a competitor but now a corporate partner, would have first crack at the story the next morning.

Our publisher at the time, a hard-charging, no-nonsense Irishman named Tim O’Connor, announced in advance that our deadline for having the verdict would be 1 o’clock. Any breaking news arriving later than that would have to wait for the next day’s press run.

There would be no, he made clear, special coverage. The day’s normal press run would proceed as scheduled, he directed.

We were all on the same page. Until Batten called.

O’Connor got swept up in the moment and changed his mind. He ordered an extra — a very special edition. As in “Extra, extra, read all about it.”

By then I was at lunch at Coastland Center Mall. Skyline Chili had a franchise there in the food court and I loved my Skyliner hotdogs.

My beeper – a primitive vibrating device that allowed brief live voice messages – summoned me back to Central Avenue.

My job at the time was news editor, responsible for how the paper looked and getting it published. On this day my ability to pull together a four-page special section, on the fly, would get its baptism of fire.

My team and I passed the test, and the results hit the press within an hour, after the day’s regular press run was over. Homedelivery was too ambitious to even consider; convenience stores and news vending machines got the few thousand extras that were cranked out.

Thank goodness I had experience tearing apart and redoing front pages on deadline, when the news overtook what had been planned. In 1980 I did it when a ship struck the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Tampa Bay, sending traffic into the water below. The next year for the attempted or accomplished assassinations of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan. In 1986, two years before I moved to editing the editorial page, which could have deadline drama all its own as in the 2000 presidential election and vote count, I did a front page makeover for the space shuttle Challenger explosion.

I tell you all of this because folks tend to be quite interested in what that was like and how daily journalism used to work, with all that heavy machinery and all those moving parts.

Now most of that heavy machinery – a multi-story printing press — is not even in Naples anymore.

These days the equivalent of the extra edition can be achieved by pushing buttons that control a web site, with unlimited updates. Anyway, deadline-sensitive afternoon papers are gone and very little big news breaks at midnight for morning papers to worry about. (The Daily News’ current deadline woes due to being printed on the east coast is another matter.)

Some of you may think my story makes me a dinosaur and explains today’s sad state of print journalism. Actually, I think my story shows what was done by a successful newspaper that made money and spent it to serve readers.

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