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News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

News online for Encinitas, Calif.

North Coast Current

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Editorial: Who watches the watchdog?

It’s bad enough that the local media market has virtually been taken over by ultra-conservative developer Douglas Manchester, relegating the daily North County Times and U-T San Diego (now one media outlet) to a platform for his political whims.

But Coast News Publisher Jim Kydd? And hidden in plain sight?

That’s what appears to have happened with the development of the political website encinitaselection.com, devoted to calling out incumbent Encinitas City Councilmen Jerome Stocks and Mark Muir and backing candidates Lisa Shaffer and Tony Kranz. The website’s name is misleadingly impartial, in the North Coast Current’s opinion.

More importantly, a review of the registration record (WHOIS) for encinitaselection.com on Oct. 12 showed that the site is actually registered under the paper’s name and Kydd’s. As of Oct. 19, the WHOIS record had been set to private and was no longer accessible.

Despite the registration record showing The Coast News and Kydd as its owners, encinitaselection.com shows no affiliation with the newspaper or its publisher, yet it includes links to the publisher’s opinion column asking voters to unseat Stocks and Muir, along with email correspondence and other information calling Stocks and Muir into question. Among the correspondence posted is an email from Stocks in which he encourages Kydd to “reach and continue a gentleman’s agreement about the level of discourse your paper contains.”

Continue a “gentleman’s agreement” about the content of a newspaper between a City Council member and the publisher? In all fairness to Kydd, in the Current’s opinion, he has reasonable grounds to run an editorial campaign questioning Stocks given such demands on a free press by a government official. But why run such a campaign in the shadows?

The unusual nature of this election-year twist became more evident as bumper stickers and advertisements started to appear, stating in small print: “Paid for by EncinitasElection.com.” The bumper stickers have been included as advertising inserts in The Coast News along with front-page print and online advertisements stating “Dump Stocks, Fire Muir.” Who exactly has paid for these ads under the website’s name is unclear.

The reading public could easily be misled into thinking that encinitaselection.com is an independent organization of some kind, rightfully contributing to the election discourse. But publicly available evidence to this point shows it’s not an independent organization.

So it begs the question: What’s wrong with doing this?

When it comes to blurring the line between covert political action and journalism, everything.

Kydd told a North Coast Current freelance reporter: “I wanted to keep the integrity of the newspaper, but I don’t want to deny my own rights as a citizen to express myself, either.” There is nothing wrong in that sentiment, and the Current does not question Kydd’s intent. But the development of the website in this manner was misguided, in the Current’s opinion, and brings up important issues in today’s media environment, locally and nationally.

Journalism, at its core, exists to shine a light on the functions of government and the powerful in general. For a news organization such as The Coast News to run a political action website in the shadows is disappointing and alarming, in the Current’s opinion. If a news organization’s ownership wants to persuade the public on issues of governance, that’s what editorials are for. Even Douglas Manchester knows that … to a fault, perhaps.

The development of this website sets a potentially dark precedent showing that quality news media should somehow be afraid to take stands by name on critical political issues. Worse, it further cements a William Randolph Hearst-like, “Manchesterian” precedent of news outlet as self-appointed political action committee, now with an added degree of secrecy.

That may not have been Kydd’s intent, but it could be the impression.

As much of a competitor as The Coast News is to this news journal, the North Coast Current believes in competing media’s right to exist. Our collective existence is a Constitutional mandate, confrontational as the business and political sides can be. However, when news media start to operate needlessly in the shadows like the very issues they seek to uncover, our collective credibility really is at stake.

Editorials solely represent the opinions of North Coast Current ownership

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Editorial: Who watches the watchdog?