NPC member and investigative reporter Gina Edwards introduced Naples Daily News columnist and speaker Brent Batten at the Press Club of Southwest Florida Holiday Luncheon/Annual Meeting on Monday, Dec. 7, at the Hilton-Naples. Batten graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism and joined the Naples Daily News in 1985, as a police beat reporter. “He has won many awards over the years and won the 2002 Best Newspaper Columnist,” said Edwards. “And his razor-sharp mind helps keep political people honest.”
“If I talk about my Naples Daily News column, it would be illogical, irrelevant, mean-spirited and out of touch,” said Batten at the beginning of his interesting and entertaining talk to the 50 Press Club of Southwest Florida members and guests. “Before I became a columnist, I was the NDN City Editor who tried to tell the newspaper reporters what to do, with varying degrees of success. I came to Florida for the same reason that many of you did. I liked winter when I was young, but in 1985 I started sending out resumes to places south of the Mason-Dixon line. Phil Lewis at the Naples Daily News interviewed me. Two weeks went by and I hadn’t heard back from him, so I called him and was told that I had the job. That was 30 years ago. I loved Naples then, and now,” said Batten.
“What is the job of the columnist?” asked Batten. “It’s to give opinions to the readers.” Batten then launched into some of his random observations.
1. Teams who can afford to spend millions on players can afford their own stadiums.
2. School lunches should provide food that the kids will eat.
3. The state of Florida should buy the sugar lands.
4. Advertising stickers on the front of the newspaper are a bother.
5. Crazy people won’t follow gun control laws.
6. One unified fire department in Collier County makes a lot of sense, but I probably won’t live long enough to see it happen.
7. I think that pigs can fly.
8. I think that we would all get along fine without a Saturday mail delivery.
9. I think the key word is illegal, not immigration.
10. I think someone in Fort Myers knows who shot that little boy.
11. I think snowbirds are O.K.; I hope I’ll be one someday.
12. I think drivers should use turn signals.
13. I think a place like Naples should be able to build a decent park on the Gordon River.
14. I think that legalizing medical marijuana is the first step to legalizing recreational marijuana.
15. We should provide less foreign aid.
16. I think that we should have one combined fire department.
16. Did I tell you that I think that pigs can fly?
17. Gannett’s acquisition of the Naples Daily News is good for all involved, and I’ll keep saying that as long as I work there.
During the Q&A period, Batten answered quite a few questions.
Q: Concerning Gannett – “I don’t see Gannett combining the Fort Myers News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Both of the brands are too valuable to their communities. Plus, the NDN has an older audience that likes print newspapers. And people will always want information.”
Q: Concerning what to call terrorists – “Ideology is a source of power, and terminology is important.”
Q: How much leeway do you have in writing what you want to write? “I have a lot of autonomy. Only one column was rejected in 20 years.”
Q: What about the dynamics of upcoming local elections? “Some of the issues are growth vs. no-growth, infrastructure, more roads in East Collier County.”
Q: Will there be a return of investigative journalism? “You can’t do investigative journalism on every subject, but different people like different subjects. There are also long-term subjects. There is something being investigated, studied and written about now at the NDN.”
Q: What about solar energy? “A clean use of petroleum is what we’re depending on now; solar power is in the future. One amendment that is being considered now would allow you to rent solar power units for your house, which is not legal now.”
Q: What about bias? “Gathering information from different sources helps create a fair point of view. Choosing what to write about and what not to write about is another issue.”
Q: It seems that Collier County is experiencing unprecedented growth right now. “I tend to agree. Impact fees help growth pay for growth; you need to get things in the pipeline. Affordable houses are an issue; it’s less costly to build further east.”
Q: Why not affordable rentals? “People feel they can make more money not building rentals. Government can help with waivers, etc. Supply and demand is a law, like gravity. You have to cope with it as best you can.”
Q: What about the mayoral race? “I don’t want to pick one candidate over the other; they are both good men.”
At the end of his talk, NPC president Carole Greene gave Batten the gift of a one-year membership to the Press Club of Southwest Florida.