- Associated Press - Monday, September 24, 2012

DENVER (AP) - The Village Voice is being sold, along with all of its affiliated free arts weekly newspapers, but the deal excludes the online classified site Backpage.com, whose listings have drawn fire for promoting the illegal sex trade.

The buyout is being led by Scott Tobias, the chief operating officer of Village Voice Media Holdings LLC. Tobias will become the new organization’s chief executive.

He said he has lined up private financing to buy almost all of the Phoenix company’s assets, which include LA Weekly and SF Weekly, from the current owners, Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey.

Larkin and Lacey will keep ownership of Backpage.com. Terms were not disclosed Monday.

Tobias said in an interview that controversy around Backpage.com “has been a distraction, there’s no doubt about it.”

“This is about two businesses moving forward,” he said.

The purchase is being made by Voice Media Group, a new holding company based in Denver. The deal includes all 13 weeklies and their websites, the national sales arm and events such as LA Weekly’s Detour and New York’s Siren music festivals.

Tobias said Voice Media Group’s publications will continue to focus on investigative journalism, coverage of food, arts, music and culture in the markets it serves. The company will also continue looking for new ways to serve readers on the Web and over mobile devices, he said.

The group’s flagship newspaper Village Voice, launched in 1955, was the nation’s first alternative newsweekly and remains among the largest. Founded in an apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village, the newspaper is known for its coverage of the arts and culture, as well for its investigations into New York City politics. Over the years, it has won three Pulitzer Prizes.

In 2005, the company merged with Phoenix-based New Times Media.

Backpage.com, a digital descendant of the Village Voice’s sometimes racy print classified ad listings, has become the nation’s top forum for ads for “escorts,” “body rubs,” and other thinly veiled references to prostitution since Craigslist.org shut down its adult services section in September 2010.

In July, three Washington state teenagers who said they were sold online for sex filed suit against Backpage’s owners for allegedly enabling their exploitation. At the time, Village Voice Media said the suit wouldn’t pass legal muster and is barred by federal law.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal called on Backpage.com in an open letter in March to “stop promoting and profiting from human trafficking” by shutting down its adult services section as Craigslist had done.

In a statement on the deal, Larkin and Lacey, the founders of Village Voice Media Holdings, said they were “ready to move on and hand the reins to a new generation of writers, editors and publishers.”

Backpage.com will “become the centerpiece of a new online classified advertising company with business worldwide,” the statement said.

The deal also includes Westword in Denver; New Times in Phoenix, Miami and Broward, Fla.; Houston Press; Observer in Dallas; Riverfront Times in St. Louis; City Pages in Minneapolis and OC Weekly in southern California.