Another day, another item on the police blotter courtesy of Backpage.com, the classified advertising web site owned by Village Voice Media, the alternative weekly newspaper chain.
The site, which features adult ads headlined “Body Rubs” and “Escorts,” has become an online gathering place for pimps and sex predators who use it to sell underage teen runaways into lives of prostitution and sexual slavery.
Phoenix-based Village Voice Media – headed by Jim Larkin and Michael Lacey– has resisted calls from child advocates, clergymen, police and states’ attorney general’s to shut down the ads, citing the First Amendment. But, the real reason for Larkin and Lacey’s fierce opposition to critics is said to be money – the company rakes in an estimated $24.8M annually from the adult ads.
But even that revenue might not be enough to save Village Voice Media, which owns 13 publications across the country (all which link to Backpage.com from their websites). The company has been rocked by sharp declines in circulation and advertising due to the inexorable decline in print media. Now, in the face of the controversy over the adult ads, even more Village Voice Media advertisers are abandoning what they see as a sinking ship.
In New York, the once-heralded Village Voice, decimated from mass firings by editor Tony Ortega, has seen its circulation slip by a staggering 12.4 percent in the last six-month reporting period. Ortega – known as chief water carrier for his Phoenix bosses – has also been a staunch defender of the adult ads, choreographing stories for the Voice and the company’s other publications which have quibbled with widely-held statistics illustrating the national epidemic of human trafficking.
Sheriff’s deputies in the Albany, New York area arrested a 27-year-old woman named Ashley Just for prostituting herself to support a heroin habit. Just was advertising herself on the adult services section of Backpage.com, cops say.