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The Dallas Observer Has New Owners; Village Voice Media, Backpage Split

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The longtime owners of the Dallas Observer have sold the paper and its 12 Village Voice Media sister publications to a group of VVM executives, creating a new holding company and cutting ties with Backpage.com, the controversial classified advertising company.

So: We have new owners, but the same old bosses. Which I think means we're not all getting fired tomorrow. We'll let you decide whether that's good news or bad.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed, but I would not be surprised if there were several barrels of scotch involved.

The previous owners, Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey, founded Phoenix New Times in 1970 as a response to the Vietnam War and grew it into the nation's largest chain of alt-weeklies. As part of this deal, they sold their stakes in the newspapers, web sites and other media products to a group of executives helmed by Scott Tobias, the company's longtime COO. Christine Brennan and Jeff Mars, themselves veterans of VVM, join Tobias at the top of the new company's masthead. That new company will be based in Denver. Its name: Voice Media Group.

Larkin and Lacey retained their ownership of Backpage, and in a letter to their former staffs vowed to keep fighting on its behalf in the courts and the press, where it's under assault for its lucrative but controversial adult-services advertising.

"It's a retirement from journalism," Lacey told the Arizona Republic. "This entire thing is still a First Amendment issue."

Tobias, meanwhile, vowed to continue to grow and expand the company's multi-platform offerings while leaving behind the tumult of Backpage.

"Backpage.com has been a distraction, there is no question," Tobias told the Wall Street Journal. "It's just not about what we do."

The full press release is below.


DENVER, September 24, 2012 -- New holding company Voice Media Group today announced that it has signed an agreement to purchase the publishing and related sales properties owned by Village Voice Media Holdings, LLC. The purchase includes the iconic Village Voice Media alternative weekly newspapers and their associated websites, as well as the national advertising arm of the company.

The buyout is being led by Scott Tobias, who has been Village Voice Media Holdings' chief operating officer and will be chief executive officer of the new Voice Media Group. Christine Brennan will become executive editor of the new enterprise after more than nineteen years as the executive managing editor at VVMH, and Jeff Mars will serve as chief financial officer, also building on his experience as vice president of financial operations for VVMH. Tobias, Brennan and Mars will comprise Voice Media Group's executive team.

Backpage.com, also currently owned by Village Voice Media Holdings, is not part of the buyout. Backpage.com will go its own way as a separate company with separate ownership.

"Voice Media Group will center its attention on the growth of the renowned weekly publications and continue its expansion into new and exciting mobile and online platforms," said Tobias. "We are focused on building a dynamic media business that allows our advertisers to target local audiences through multiple platforms. We will continue to offer advertisers a national footprint with hyper-local reach and we will continue to provide high-caliber and comprehensive content to our readers."

Under the terms of the agreement, Voice Media Group will own and operate the following print publications and corresponding digital properties: Village Voice (New York), LA Weekly (Los Angeles), Westword (Denver), New Times (Phoenix), Houston Press, Dallas Observer, Riverfront Times (St. Louis), New Times (Miami), City Pages (Minneapolis), New Times (Broward), SF Weekly (San Francisco), Seattle Weekly, and OC Weekly (Orange County). Voice Media Group will also purchase and take over VVMH's national advertising division, which will now be called VMG National. VMG National will continue to sell national advertising for more than 56 partner sites and publications, reaching more than 3 million readers across 56 key metro markets each week.

"The publishing properties purchased under this agreement have always exemplified a commitment to editorial integrity -- delivering reliable and essential news and cultural coverage to their local communities," said Brennan. "Voice Media Group will champion and nurture this journalistic heritage."

The new company will continue to serve local markets with thought-provoking articles, opinionated reviews, and comprehensive events and listings, while expanding the brand's digital footprint across mobile and online platforms.

About Voice Media Group Voice Media Group is a privately held media company focused on the production of relevant news and entertainment content across print, mobile and web properties for the culturally aware consumer. The company will own and operate thirteen leading weekly newspapers -- including Village Voice (New York), LA Weekly (Los Angeles), Westword (Denver), New Times (Phoenix), Houston Press, Dallas Observer, Riverfront Times (St. Louis), New Times (Miami), City Pages (Minneapolis), New Times (Broward), SF Weekly (San Francisco), Seattle Weekly, and OC Weekly (Orange County) -- affiliated digital properties, and a national sales arm, VMG National. At its outset, VMG will reach more than seven million monthly readers in print and 16 million unique desktop visitors each month, in addition to 1.2 million email subscribers, more than 5.7 million visits on mobile, and more than forty signature food, music and arts events per year nationwide. Meanwhile, VMG National will serve more than 56 partner sites and publications with weekly print circulation of 3.14 million and 94 million pageviews per month. For more information, visit www.voicemediagroup.com.

Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

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