Michael Lacey Says Newspaper Chain He Co-Founded Will Continue Quality Journalism Under Its New Ownership
Michael Lacey says he wouldn't hesitate to put his children in the care of the management team that just bought the newspaper chain he helped start 42 years ago.
In fact, he feels like that's almost what he did.
It was announced Sunday night that Village Voice Media had agreed to sell its 13 newspapers, their websites, and the company's national-advertising component to Voice Media Group, made up of senior management at VVM.
It also was announced that the lucrative and controversial online classified ad site Backpage.com. was not part of the deal.
Lacey says Backpage will go its own way, with him and legendary VVM partner Jim Larkin at the helm.
Putting Phoenix New Times and the other papers in the hands of trusted colleagues, Lacey says, means that his and Larkin's tradition of quality journalism will continue.
To focus on legal fights involving Backpage.com, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey have sold their chain of alternative newsweeklies, including Phoenix New Times, to trusted colleagues.
Image: Jamie Peachey
Scott Tobias, longtime chief operating officer of Village Voice Media, is chief executive officer of the new, Denver-based Voice Media Group. Christine Brennan, VVM executive managing editor for 19 years, is executive editor of VMG. And Jeff Mars, vice president of financial operations at VVM, is its chief financial officer.
Lacey says he and Larkin no longer have any control of the newspapers.
Lacey cofounded Phoenix New Times in 1970 in response to the killings of four Kent State University students by Ohio National Guardmen. With Larkin as publisher, the pair turned the single newspaper into a robust media chain.
The several hundred journalism awards won by the papers' writers is testament to the culture the company fostered, Lacey says.
"We put together an approach to journalism and to telling stories that attracted dedicated and serious writers," he says.
Lacey often led by example, winning numerous awards for penning poignant tales about social problems or doing investigative journalism about corrupt politicians. He often generated ideas for articles and projects that earned national recognition. For instance, he won the 2011 Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications for his story about a woman who died in jail custody, and he led a VVM series on immigration called "Amongst Us" that won the the 2011 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism.
Lacey and Larken found themselves arrested because of journalism in late 2007, following a shameful and outrageous plot by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and then-County Attorney Andrew Thomas' office to destroy Phoenix New Times.
On the business side, Backpage.com. became a huge financial success for VVM. When Craigslist stopped taking adult escort ads a few years ago, a vast number of its clients migrated to Backpage.
But with the success came criticism from religious groups and a cadre of state attorneys general for, these groups claimed, facilitating underage prostitution. The criticism was bolstered by lies and bogus statistics, but it resulted in lost ad revenue and picket-waving demonstrators at some VVM publications..
A squadron of lawyers had to be hired to deal with Backpage problems in the last couple of years, and Lacey says he and Larkin had to dedicate an inordinate amount of time to issues surrounding the site.
"The equation for us became... this is what we're doing all the time," he says. "This was a management issue."
Lacey says he and Larkin decided to sell their newspaper holdings to the new company so that it could devote full energy to the business of journalism. Financial information related to the deal hasn't been divulged.
Lacey likens his and Larkin's Backpage battles to ones fought by late literary publisher Barney Rosset, "who spent his entire life fighting for the right to publicize adult content." Lacey stresses that the ads on Backpage are protected by the First Amendment.
To Backpage's detractors, he says, "We'll see you in the courthouse."
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