Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, the two sexagenarian owners of Phoenix-based Village Voice Media's network of 13 alternative weekly papers have agreed to sell off all their publications (including SF Weekly) to separate the actual news from their controversial classifieds site Backpage.com. Or so it would seem.
The deal will shift ownership of the 13 weeklies to Voice Media Group. The new company will be based out of Colorado and headed up by CEO Scott Tobias, current publisher of Denver's Westword. Executive editor duties for the new company will go to Christine Brennan, who currently serves as the Executive Managing Editor of the Village Voice Network. Almost a year ago today, SF Weekly laid off four noted members of the editorial staff, while other Voice papers were hit with similarly harsh cutbacks and staff departures as well.
Backpage.com was a big moneymaker for the company, pulling in over $3 million per month according to Reuters. Lacey and Larkin allegedly (and quite suspiciously) have no interest in pursuing journalism at this point and will maintain control of Backpage.com. As readers might recally, Backpage.com came under fire for allegedly aiding in underage prostitution and sex trafficking — a controversy that played out in the media when Ashton Kutchers' "Real Men" ad campaign accused the company of knowingly advertising underage prostitutes.
The paper fired back with a nationally syndicated "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight" story featuring a dumbfounded Kutcher on the cover. After a high-profile New York Times editorial, advertisers like SF MOMA started pulling ads from VVM papers. All the mudslinging back and forth has apparently become too much of a "distraction" for the new management, who hopes to jump on a recent shift in local ad spending and move away from the classified-supported model.
As for what this means for all the paper copies in corner kiosks around town, the Weekly's own announcement of the national news sounds downright relieved. Weekly staffer Erin Sherbert writes:
So what will this mean for you, SF Weekly readers? Nothing, really. The San Francisco-based paper will continue digging up kick-ass stories, and raising hell around town... The main difference is that you will no longer be subjected to Backpage.com, which has sparked nothing but controversy because of its role in facilitating sexually based advertising.
Or as CEO Tobias said of the dwindling adult-services section of the paper, "We will continue to have our adult sections in print to the extent they exist. They are extremely small at this point."
That being said, there is more to this story. Stay tuned.