An agreement has been reached for the purchase of the newspaper properties of Village Voice Media Holdings, the country’s largest alternative newsweekly chain. The buyer is a new company formed by former executives of Village Voice Media Holdings and called Voice Media Group, it announced on Monday. The controversial Backpage.com will not be included in the sale and will be retained by the parent company.
Should the deal be finalized, Scott Tobias, chief operating officer of Village Voice Media Holdings, will become the CEO of the newly formed Voice Media Group. Christine Brennan, the executive managing editor of the current Voice company, will be the executive editor of the new company. And Jeff Mars, vice president of financial operations at Village Voice Media Holdings, will be the new company’s chief financial officer.
The planned sale appears to bring an end to the legendary alternative weekly careers of Village Voice Media owners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin. They founded the Phoenix New Times in the 1970s and built a national alt weekly empire that culminated with the acquisition of the Village Voice in 2005. Lacey and Larkin will retain ownership of Backpage, the Arizona Republic reports.
Backpage, the classified advertising site, has often come under fire for its adult services listings. In 2010, a 15-year-old girl sued the Voice media company, alleging that the company contributed to her being forced into prostitution by posting ads from her pimp. The lawsuit claimed the Village Voice company knew it was posting sexually explicit ads that featured minors. The suit was later dismissed.
Lacey told the Arizona paper that the legal headaches often plaguing Backpage have been a “distraction” from the journalistic goals. But it certainly still brings in cash, to the tune of about $24 million in annual revenue, according to Reuters. Larkin and Lacey are retaining ownership of the profitable online entity. The financial state of the newspapers was not revealed in the announcement of the deal, nor were their new owners.
Larkin and Lacey’s exit from the papers makes sense to Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst. “It’s a declining business,” he told TPM. “I can see them just wanting to get out of there.”
The new company will be based in Denver, Colo., and it did not disclose the expected sale price. Voice Media Group directed questions to Backpage, which did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.
So where do the newspapers go from here? In their farewell note, Larkin and Lacey encouraged staff to “Enjoy the hell you raise.” But with layoffs across the properties reported by BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray, a former Voice staff writer, the operation appears significantly weakened. The Voice today tends to have more restaurant guides and music listings than muckraking. For all of Larkin and Lacey’s past swashbuckling, the newspapers have not been able to overcome the digital disruption cutting into their bottom line.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com