The owners of Village Voice Media (and the original founders of one of that company's 13 alt-weekly newspapers) have decided to sell all their publications in order to distance the news from their controversial adult services website. Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin will transfer their nationwide network of alternative papers to a new company and sell control to several of those papers' current publishers and editors. No terms were disclosed. The roster of publications includes The Village Voice in New York; SF Weekly and LA Weekly in California; Denver's Westword; and the Phoenix New Times, among others. Lacey and Larkin founded the New Times when they were students at Arizona State University in 1970, before slowly acquiring the other properties in the '80s and '90s.

However, the pair will retain ownership of Backpage.com, a classified ads website that has faced several lawsuits and criminal complaints due to its adult-services advertising. There have been numerous allegations that Backpage ads have been used by pimps to sell underage prostitutes and sex trafficking victims. The adult ads has been extremely lucrative — over $3 million a month according to Reuters — but their controversial nature has been an unwelcome "distraction" that threatened the existence of the newspapers themselves. Earlier this year, Nichols Kristof of The New York Times criticized Village Voice Media in a very public editorial that led to several large advertisers pulling their ads from the papers. Investment bank Goldman Sachs also sold its sizable stake in the company in response.
 

The CEO of the new company, Voice Media Group, will be Scott Tobias, the current publisher of Westword and the editorial side will be run by the current executive managing editor Christine Brennan. According to The New York Observer, employees at some of the company's papers dubbed her "The Wicked Witch of Westword" because her arrival on site usually meant bad news for writers and other employees. VVM papers had been plagued by layoffs and departures in recent years, including the sudden split by Village Voice editor Tony Ortega, who quit just 10 days ago to pursue a book about Scientology. The remaining employees will have to wait and see if this new direction turns things around financially.