Point of View: All the news that’s fit to copy and paste

Roman S. Koenig

Encinitas has an odd reputation for being a home base of questionable news websites. (Based on interactions I’ve had and witnessed this election season, a certain element of the city’s emerging political class would rope the North Coast Current into that category.)

Over the past eight years — not counting a site created 10 years ago during a heated City Council campaign — the Encinitas Beacon and Encinitas Current cropped up claiming to be local journalism, launched by politicians or political influencers, only to go dormant or disappear after the elections were over. Regardless of their purposes, the sites’ content was original, written by candidates, pundits and supporters. In that way, it’s tough to complain about their existence, even if the content was quietly aimed at supporting a particular candidate and their causes.

Point of View by Roman S. KoenigSince 2021, we’ve had a third — and it’s troublesome enough that the city of Encinitas put a disclaimer about it in the footer of its own website (which has since been removed with the launch of a new site). The site came to my attention this week when references to it popped in local social media discussions.

Local Encinitas News lists no staff members, mailing address or email contacts, yet it prominently displays the city’s official seal on its site. It copies the city’s “About Encinitas” statement and other elements. That’s not all it copies without credit, however.

On this anonymously produced site, you can find news stories and opinion pieces from The Coast News, Patch and other news outlets in the region. The stories are copied and pasted without attribution or links to the original creators while carrying “Encinitas News” bylines in many cases.

The first copied story shows up in February 2021, a Coast News report with an “Encinitas News” byline. Some of the text is altered just enough to try to throw savvy web searchers and readers off the copied stories.

The site’s operators did not respond to a message from me, which I could only send through an online contact widget.

When I brought the site — which has a domain that is easily confused with the city’s (encinitasca.org vs. encinitasca.gov) — to city officials’ attention this week, they explained that the city has been aware of it since 2021. In March of that year, the city added a disclaimer in its footer that reads: “encinitasca.org is not a City website, and is not authorized by the City.”

“In response to your question, the website below is not owned by the City,” Deputy City Clerk Pete Weichers told me by email.

Weichers also sent me a link to the city’s policies regarding the proper uses of the city seal, logo and insignia.

In social media discussions observed over the past few days, locals’ reactions ranged from celebrating the arrival of a better news outlet (apparently not realizing the stories are from the outlets they disparage) to accusing the city government of launching a propaganda front (again, apparently not realizing where the stories are coming from).

While city officials’ reaction came quickly after my inquiry, local news outlets were not as quick to defend their outlets and the work of their reporters, despite the blatant copying under another’s banner.

I sought reactions from management at The Coast News and Patch, but neither responded by the time of this column’s publication. It’s possible they may have already been aware of the site and prefer not to give it anymore fuel than it already has. That’s understandable.

Either way, the damage is being done. Readers in town are already wondering what’s going on, by who, and why.

There is plenty to wonder about Encinitas Local News. It has no advertising. There is no ownership statement. And, as noted earlier, there is no apparent staff. The closest link to the site’s ownership is its domain registration, which shows Dynadot LLC of San Mateo as the registrar. The registration itself is private.

Until more information can be found, it will be difficult to hold the site owner accountable for the copying of others’ work.

Roman S. Koenig is editor and publisher of the North Coast Current.

Columns are the opinions of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of North Coast Current ownership. Comment below or submit letters to the editor at letters[at]northcoastcurrent.com.