Village Voice Media agreed Sunday to sell New York's Village Voice alternative weekly and its 12 affiliated publications, while keeping a classified ads website criticized for hosting ads for prostitution and sex trafficking.
According to Forbes, the 13 publications, which include Phoenix's New Times and California's L.A. Weekly, among others, will now be owned by Voice Media Group, headed by former Voice chief operating officer Scott Tobias.
"This is a grassroots buyout," Tobias told Ad Age. "We're excited to continue to focus on professional, curated, hard-hitting journalism, comprehensive entertainment coverage and a continued push to digital."
The Associated Press reported that the deal also includes ownership of the publications' websites, national sales department and musical events like the Detour Music Festival, hosted by L.A. Weekly.
In a separate statement, Village Voice Media general counsel Elizabeth McDougall said Backpage.com will continue to be run by CEO Jim Larkin and Executive Editor Michael Lacey, as "the centerpiece of a new online classified advertising company with business worldwide."
The move comes little more than a month after Buzzfeed reported that four Village Voice staff members, as well as staff at other sister papers, had been laid off. And on Sept. 14, both Editor-In-Chief Tony Ortega and music critic Maura Johnston announced they were leaving the publication.
An anonymous former staff member told the New York Observer Ortega had been increasingly worried about his job security after the addition of writer James King, an alleged favorite of Lacey's.
"Since James's arrival, it’s been clear that Tony is afraid and saw that James had been sent in by corporate to keep an eye on him, and maybe even serve as his replacement," the staff member said. "Hence Tony's willingness to pretty much lick King's asshole–he was hoping, it seemed, that this would be reciprocated positively by corporate."
Village Voice Media had also come under increased scrutiny for operating Backpage, which features ads for "body rubs" and escorts, and has been accused of enabling underage prostitution and human trafficking.
Earlier this year, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that attorneys general from 48 states had written a letter asking the company to stop publishing "adult" advertisements.
"There are no simple solutions to end sex trafficking, but it would help to have public pressure on Village Voice Media to stop carrying prostitution advertising," Kristof wrote. "The Film Forum has already announced that it will stop buying ads in The Village Voice. About 100 advertisers have dropped Rush Limbaugh's radio show because of his demeaning remarks about women. Isn't it infinitely more insulting to provide a forum for the sale of women and girls?"
[Photo of Village Voice cover via Dancing Ink Productions on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]