Village Voice Media owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin announced Sunday night that they have agreed to sell the chain of 13 weeklies — a mix of papers they created and big established titles they acquired, including the LA Weekly and Village Voice — and will get out of alt journalism. The buyers are a new company formed by ex-editors and publishers of the New Times chain that Lacey and Larkin helped start in Phoenix in the 1970s. The two men will keep Backpage.com, the online advertising site that has been controversial over its ads fronting for prostitution, but Backpage ads will no longer run in the weekly papers.
"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.
The buyer is a new entity, Voice Media Group, that will be run out of Denver. Scott Tobias, the current COO of Village Voice Media, will be CEO of the new company. New Times vet Christine Brennan, currently the executive managing editor for the Village Voice Media chain, will be the top editor.
No terms of the deal were announced.
From the new ownership group's release:
"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," said Tobias. "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."
Under the terms of the agreement, Voice Media Group will own and operate the following print publications and corresponding digital properties: Village Voice (New York), LA Weekly (Los Angeles), Westword (Denver), New Times (Phoenix), Houston Press, Dallas Observer, Riverfront Times (St. Louis), New Times (Miami), City Pages (Minneapolis), New Times (Broward), SF Weekly (San Francisco), Seattle Weekly, and OC Weekly (Orange County). Voice Media Group will also purchase and take over VVMH's national advertising division, which will now be called VMG National. VMG National will continue to sell national advertising for more than 56 partner sites and publications, reaching more than 3 million readers across 56 key metro markets each week.
"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," said Brennan. "Voice Media Group will champion and nurture this journalistic heritage."
The Chicago Tribune story frames the move as an attempt to stem the losses from the controversy over Backpage and accusations that it promotes sex trafficking. "The company split appears aimed at slowing an exodus of national and local advertisers from Village Voice Media in recent months," says the Tribune. Lacey did not disagree in his comments.
"I was dealing with those issues when I should have been dealing with journalism," Lacey said in disclosing the sale. "That's something the local editors don't need to be defusing every morning when they wake up."
From the Arizona Republic:
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 [New Times] 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.
LA Weekly editor Sarah Fenske posted tonight that readers will not notice much cnage.
Our L.A.-based staff will continue printing the truth and raising hell. None of us in intend to go anywhere: You can still read all our great arts coverage, hard-hitting investigative pieces, and award-winning food criticism....
The main difference? The L.A. Weekly is no longer part of the same stable as Backpage.com, which has come under fire in recent years for its role in facilitating sexually based advertising. Backpage ads already no longer appear on this website, and Voice Media Group will be a separate entity.
At the OC Weekly, editor Gustavo Arellano posted a blog item saying that nothing much will change there either. "You can read the press release by our newish owners...for all the particulars, but all I can say is that the mission of the Weekly remains, and that our owners are committed to that mission because, um, that was the old mission under them when we were called Village Voice Media. We remain, to raise hell, just like we always have."