A group of local businessmen met on January 9, 1946, to organize a weekly newspaper for Okaloosa County's southern region. The Okaloosa News-Journal, published at the county seat of Crestview at the northern end of the county for many decades, carried early accounts of the developing region. As the southern communities of Fort Walton, Destin, Shalimar, Cinco Bayou, Mary Esther, Ocean City, Wright, Valparaiso and Niceville expanded, so did the need for local coverage. The civic leaders gathered at a downtown Fort Walton bar which had the only available meeting room. Present were Clyde Meigs, Fred McCaully, Paul Roberts, Ray Folmar, R.L. Odom, Howard Gill, L. Ferrin, George Klosterman, Lee Courter, Frank Bizelle, Braden Ball, W.R. Cummings, DeWitt Lamb (the first editor), Andy Anderson, Leon Bishop, Toopey Work, Bill Williams and Bill Folb.
Perry Publications, a group of about 30 papers, began publication of the Playground News February 7, 1946. The first issue contained 24 pages, about 65 percent of which was paid display advertising. From the mid-1960s, the newspaper's offices and printing plant were on Eglin Parkway in downtown Fort Walton Beach. The paper was sold to Freedom Newspapers, Inc., now Freedom Communications, on July 1, 1969. On August 22, 1975, the newspaper printed the edition for the first time at a new plant and offices at 200 N.W. Racetrack Road in Fort Walton Beach, which would remain the base of operations through the fall of 2011.
Over its history, the paper has gone by three names:
- Playground News February 7, 1946 - September 30, 1975
- Playground Daily News October 1, 1975 - February 29, 1988
- Northwest Florida Daily News March 1, 1988–present
Due to the close ties between the Fort Walton Beach community and Eglin Air Force Base, the Playground/Northwest Florida News supplanted the Okaloosa News-Journal, published in Crestview, Florida, as the county paper of record.
Hunter S. Thompson wrote a sports column for the Northwest Florida Daily News (then called the Playground News) while stationed at Eglin Air Force Base. Thompson landed the job in early February 1957. Hired by Publisher Wayne Bell, Thompson wrote under the pseudonyms Thorne Stockton and Cubley Cohn.