A group of long-running alternative weekly newspapers is changing hands. Village Voice Media Holdings — whose titles include the LA Weekly, Westword, and, yes, the Village Voice — is selling its publications (and their associated web properties) to a new holding company, the similarly named Voice Media Group.
The financial terms are not being disclosed. The deal includes all 13 of VVMH’s alt weeklies, but not the online classifieds site Backpage.com, which will operate as its own company.
When discussing the acquisition, Voice Media Group CEO Scott Tobias emphasizes continuity. Basically, the company’s management is buying the organization from the current owners, and there are no plans for a big shake-up. Tobias was previously the COO at VVMH, the new company’s executive editor Christine Brennan was formerly the executive managing editor, and the new chief financial officer Jeff Mars served as vice president of financial operations. And even though the company’s headquarters are moving from Phoenix to Denver, Tobias says the team has been running day-to-day operations in Denver for some time.
Founded in 1955 by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher, and Norman Mailer, The Village Voice claims to be the first and largest alternative weekly newspaper. In the 50-plus years since its founding, the paper has become famous for its investigative journalism, as well as its criticism and reviews. (For a good stretch of the 1990s and 2000s, I read both The Voice and the LA Weekly religiously — here’s a letter to the editor to prove it — and the LA Weekly is where my boss Alexia Tsotsis got her start in tech journalism).
The Voice’s parent company was acquired by New Times Media in 2005, at which point New Times changed its name to Village Voice Media. The years since then haven’t been easy for newspaper companies, and VVMH has had its bumps. In fact, the Voice’s editor Tony Ortega and music editor Maureen Johnston both left earlier this month, prompting a former reporter to describe the paper as one that has been “winding down for a while,” and to criticize VVMH for its “generic” approach to coverage.
Asked why he would want to get into the news business, particularly the print news business, Tobias notes, “We’re not a daily newspaper.” He says Voice Media Group’s strength, from an advertising perspective, is the fact that it combines “a national footprint with hyperlocal reach.” The company also plans to grow aggressively on the digital side, with several major launches coming later this year.
The new company’s publications supposedly reach 7 million monthly print readers and 16 million unique desktop visitors on the Web, as well as 1.2 million email subscribers. Its mobile sites see 5.7 million monthly visits. And it also operates a division called VMG National, which sells advertising for 56 partner sites and publications, and holds more than 40 food, music, and arts events per year.