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Village Voice splits from controversial ad site linked to sex trade

By Daniel S Levine,

The group of managers that is preparing to buy the Village Voice chain of newspapers is dropping the chain’s controversial ad site Backpage.com, which has been linked to the illegal sex trade.

Scott Tobias, the COO of Village Voice Media Holdings LLC, is set to become the new chief executive and told The Associated Press that Backpage.com will be left behind because of the controversy surrounding it. He called it a “distraction, there’s no doubt about it.”

Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey, who currently own the Phoenix-based newspaper chain, will keep ownership of Backpage.com.

“This is about two businesses moving forward,” Tobias added.

According to Deadline, Backpage.com’s links to the sex trade were made public by The New York Times’ Nicholas D. Kristoff, who reported on it in March. Goldman Sachs later sold its stake in the site, but the Voice later slammed Kristoff’s report.

The AP notes that Backpage.com has become the top site in the US for “escorts” since Craigslist.com ended its adult services section. Then in July, three Washington women filed a lawsuit against the site’s owners for facilitating exploitation. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal even wrote an open letter to the site to get them to “stop promoting and profiting from human trafficking.”

Tobias said that, by taking control of the company, he can focus “on building a dynamic media business that allows our advertisers to target local audiences through multiple platforms” and offer “high-caliber and comprehensive content to our readers.”

In their own statement, Larkin and Lacey said that they are “ready to move on and hand the reins to a new generation of writers, editors and publishers.” The two added that Backpage.com will “become the centerpiece of a new online classified advertising company with business worldwide.”

The new company will include all 13 Village Voice weeklies, websites, the national sales arm and events.

 

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