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Phoenix New Times Newspaper sold


Phoenix New Times founders selling company


Phoenix New Times founders selling company

Parent company being sold to group of its employees

by Michael Kiefer - Sept. 23, 2012 09:13 PM

The Republic | azcentral.com

The Valley men who founded the weekly alternative newspaper Phoenix New Times and parlayed it into a national media chain are selling all 13 of their publications and leaving journalism.

Village Voice Media owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin announced Sunday night that they have agreed to sell their company, which owns alternative weeklies from Los Angeles to New York City, to a newly created company owned by a group of the papers' editors and publishers.

Lacey and Larkin will retain ownership of Backpage.com, an international, multimillion-dollar online advertising site that has been the target of legal action and protests in several states because users have illicitly posted ads to market prostitution.

"It's painful thinking about selling something you created with blood, sweat and tears, but it's much less painful to sell it to your peers," Lacey told The Arizona Republic.

Lacey and Scott Tobias, chief executive officer of the new company, Voice Media Group, would not disclose the sales price or or other terms of the deal. An agreement is in place but will be finalized at a later date, said Liz McDougall, attorney for Village Voice Media.

The new owners have incorporated in Colorado, and Tobias said the papers will continue with the same coverage of news, music and dining.

"This new group of owners is all homegrown," said Tobias, who was president and chief operating officer of the old company, Village Voice Media Holdings LLC, and publisher of Westword in Denver. "One of our strengths is local, and this land rush to local? We've been doing it since the beginning."

The editorial direction will come out of Denver, and the other principals in Voice Media Group are currently employees at Village Voice Media papers in Texas, New York and Phoenix.

The sale culminates a 42-year journey for Lacey and Larkin that began in 1970 as a protest against the National Guard shooting that killed four students at Kent State University. Lacey, now 64, and Larkin, 63, turned a renegade newspaper started by Arizona State University students into an edgy investigative paper distributed for free at stores and in street racks. Neither man finished college, but they became millionaires.

The decision to sell ownership of the weeklies, Lacey said, came out of the difficulty in managing their company's news operations while fighting the legal battles involving Backpage.com. The website's listings of adult services have generated accusations that Village Voice Media was promoting sex trafficking and child prostitution. Valley law-enforcement officials have said Backpage.com is a constant in prostitution investigations, but they don't believe Village Voice Media has knowingly become involved in promoting criminal activity.

The controversy has ended up in court. In June, Village Voice Media won a temporary restraining order in federal court in Seattle against a state law that required Internet sites to verify the age of those offering adult services, which Village Voice argued would, in effect, hold Internet sites responsible for users' criminal behavior. Lacey likened it to holding FedEx responsible if someone used its services to mail pornography. In 2011, a federal judge in Missouri threw out a lawsuit claiming a 14-year-old girl had been sold for prostitution on Backpage.com.

"I was dealing with those issues when I should have been dealing with journalism," Lacey said in disclosing the sale.

The notoriety of the anti-sex-trafficking protests also was distracting to editors of the local papers, located in New York, California, Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Washington and Minnesota.

"That's something the local editors don't need to be defusing every morning when they wake up," he said.

The newspaper started in 1970, and its staff rotated through jobs. Lacey was one of the founders, and Larkin came later, though both drifted away from it after a few years. In 1977, Lacey and Larkin bought out the other owners of the paper, and New Times began anew with Lacey as editor and Larkin as publisher. In 1983, they bought Westword in Denver, and over the next 15 years, they bought papers in Miami, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, usually facing local opposition that viewed them as outsiders.

In 2005, they bought the parent company of the venerable Village Voice, to the chagrin of that paper's core New York readership. They applied their brand of rabble-rousing, investigative reporting and in-your-face commentary to all of the publications.

That style was evident in October 2007, when Lacey and Larkin defied a court order not to reveal the contents of a subpoena from a special prosecutor appointed by former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas to prosecute the paper for publishing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's address.

Instead, they published an article detailing the case and the information sought by the prosecutor, which included extensive information about users of the paper's website. David Hendershott, at the time Arpaio's chief deputy, ordered them arrested that night and took them to jail. A civil-rights lawsuit stemming from that arrest is still pending.

The disputes over Backpage.com are more recent. Lacey describes it as the second-largest online classified site. It evolved out of the literal back page of the New Times newspapers and morphed into an Internet marketplace that, some media observers have said, generates tens of millions of dollars annually. Lacey will not disclose the exact figure.

Backpage.com offers a range of classified ads, including ads for car sales, finding roommates, jobs, real estate and classes. But it is the adult section that has drawn national attention. Law-enforcement officials in the Phoenix area have conducted stings and made arrests, alleging prostitutes advertised on the site. National advocacy groups have maintained that it is used to further child prostitution. In some markets, the association of the papers with Backpage has led to boycotts and companies withdrawing ads.

Lacey maintains that the 160 employees try to screen out illegal activities. When they are uncovered, he said, the employees look for the victims on other sites.

"A victim is generally on as many as a dozen websites," not exclusively on Backpage, he said.

He said the company cooperates with law enforcement and responds to subpoenas within 24 hours.

"There are people who abuse the Internet, and there are underage victims on the Internet, and we work hand in hand with law enforcement to try and rescue anyone that is underage," he said. "We try to keep them off the Internet, but that doesn't mean that they can't subvert it or break the law or violate our terms of use."

Lacey said all of the papers and their websites are profitable. Yet, like mainstream publications, alternative newsweeklies are struggling to hold on to readers and advertising dollars as the Internet has fragmented and disrupted the market.

Village Voice Media papers have cut staff in recent years. The New York media have reported on layoffs at the Village Voice. Last month, Phoenix New Times laid off one of its most experienced reporters, Paul Rubin, who said he was told it was for financial reasons. Lacey would neither confirm nor deny that assertion.

When asked if Backpage was a liability for the print and online publications, Lacey referred to pressure from the government: "Well, not so much a liability as a distraction, because when you have the government engaged with you legally, they have the resources to go on almost forever."

Lacey, who has the words "hold fast" tattooed on his fingers, spoke with relish about the political and court fights ahead over Backpage.com

"It's a retirement from journalism," he said. "This entire thing is still a First Amendment issue."

Village Voice splits from sex ad-linked Backpage


Village Voice splits from sex ad-linked Backpage

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2012 6:17 am

Associated Press

A group of managers is buying the Village Voice and all its affiliated free arts weeklies but is leaving behind the online classified site Backpage.com, whose listings have drawn fire for promoting the illegal sex trade.

The buyout by managers is being led by Scott Tobias, the chief operating officer of Village Voice Media Holdings LLC. Tobias will become the new organization's chief executive.

He said he has lined up private financing to buy almost all of the Phoenix-based company's assets, which include LA Weekly and SF Weekly, from the current owners, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey.

Larkin and Lacey will keep ownership of Backpage.com. Terms were not disclosed.

Tobias said in an interview that controversy around Backpage.com "has been a distraction, there's no doubt about it."

"This is about two businesses moving forward," he said.

The purchase is being made by Voice Media Group, a new holding company based in Denver. The deal includes all 13 weeklies and their websites, the national sales arm and events such as LA Weekly's Detour and New York's Siren music festivals.

Backpage.com has become the nation's top forum for ads for "escorts," ''body rubs," and other thinly veiled references to prostitution since Craigslist.org shut down its adult services section in September 2010.

Just last week, Maricopa County Sheriff's detectives busted an East Valley prostitution and drug operation that Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office said involved Backpage.com.

In July, three Washington state teenagers who said they were sold online for sex sued Backpage's owners for allegedly enabling their exploitation. At the time, Village Voice Media said the suit wouldn't pass legal muster and is barred by federal law.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal called on Backpage.com in an open letter in March to "stop promoting and profiting from human trafficking" by shutting down its adult services section as Craigslist had done.

In a statement on the deal, Larkin and Lacey, the founders of Village Voice Media Holdings, said they were "ready to move on and hand the reins to a new generation of writers, editors and publishers."

Backpage.com will "become the centerpiece of a new online classified advertising company with business worldwide," the statement said.

The deal also includes Westword in Denver; New Times in Phoenix, Miami and Broward, Fla.; Houston Press; Observer in Dallas; Riverfront Times in St. Louis; City Pages in Minneapolis and OC Weekly in southern California.

Voice Media Group Agrees to Purchase Village Voice Media, owner of Phoenix New Times.


Backpage.com Not Part of the New Company

By Rick Barrs Sun., Sep. 23 2012 at 10:29 PM

A new holding company out of Denver, Voice Media Group, announced today that it has agreed to purchase Village Voice Media, owner of Phoenix New Times and 12 other alternative newspapers across the country.

The purchase includes the newspapers, their websites, and VVM's national-advertising component.

Scott Tobias, VVM's chief operating officer, led the buyout and will be chief executive officer of the new company. Christine Brennan, executive managing editor of VVM for the past 19 years, will become executive editor, and Jeff Mars, vice president of financial operations at VVM, will become chief financial officer.

Backpage.com, currently owned by VVM, is not part of the buyout. It will become a separate company with separate ownership.

"Voice Media Group will center its attention on the growth of the renowned weekly publications and continue its expansion into new and exciting mobile and online platforms," Tobias says. "We are focused on building a dynamic media business that allows our advertisers to target local audiences through multiple platforms. We will continue to offer advertisers a national footprint with hyper-local reach, and we will continue to provide high-caliber and comprehensive content to our readers."

Says Brennan, "The publishing properties purchased under this agreement have always exemplified a commitment to editorial integrity -- delivering reliable and essential news and cultural coverage to their local communities. Voice Media Group will champion and nurture this journalistic heritage.

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