Voice Media Group CEO Scott Tobias talks future of alt-weekly chain

Six weeks ago the nation’s predominant chain of alternative weeklies split itself into two very different companies: a publisher of quirky local newspapers and an online classifieds site with an image problem involving prostitution and underage girls. If that wasn’t strange enough of a fate for Village Voice Media what came next surely was: the company’s founders, partners Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, kept the sex ads and handed over the newspaper chain they spent decades building — which includes LA Weekly, The Village Voice and Westword — to the executives who used to work for them. (No financials were publicly disclosed and it’s unclear whether the newspapers, stripped of the lucrative online ad service, would cost much in a deal.)

In all, 13 titles changed hands to form the new company, Voice Media Group, headed by chief executive Scott Tobias, editor Christine Brennan and finance chief Jeff Mars, all high-ranking veterans of the predecessor company. Ebyline asked Tobias, the company’s former COO who started at the chain as a salesperson in 1993, what the management buyout means for the newspapers and where the alt-weekly business and its journalism is headed.

Through Voice Media Group, what is your strategy for making the company grow on both the advertising and circulation side?

Voice Media Group is a content company that reveals the essence of a city through thought-provoking articles, opinionated reviews and cultural events and listings.

Regarding advertising strategy, Voice Media Group will provide advertisers looking to reach local audiences on a national scale with high impact, targeted exposure opportunities across all of its markets through multiple platforms and channels. Our strategy remains the same, which is offering advertisers personalized service as previously experienced, which allows them to connect directly with our educated and sophisticated audience. Our quiver is unmatched in the markets we serve. Advertisers can reach our targeted demos through print, mobile, email, SMS and through our web platforms. Our event business is stronger than ever, built around our key verticals such as art, food and music—this is a perfect platform for advertisers to connect with our readers and consumers where they live and play.

On the circulation front, Voice Media Group will expand its digital product suite to include new mobile and online platforms, reaching new audiences and making content more accessible to readers and easier for advertisers to connect with the culturally aware consumer.

Why did your group buy the alt-weekly newspaper chain? How important was Backpage.com to the chain’s revenue and profits?

This was a business decision involving two companies who realized they have two separate missions—one in news and entertainment and one focused exclusively in digital classifieds—and both are better off focusing on those separate missions.

It is unusual for a management group to take over a print publication. You and your partners were the previous company’s editorial, operations and financial expertise. What specific insights, or advantages, do those previous roles give you and your team?

We understand our target audience and dedicated readers better than anyone. Our backgrounds complement the heritage of our print publications, and help guarantee our digital properties and to-be developed products embrace the same commitment to the editorial integrity and relevant, localized content our readers have grown to trust and expect.

Where are you investing in digital, or pulling back to focus on core print products, and what trends/developments drive your thinking on digital?

The digital revolution of the publishing industry has provided new opportunities for growth. We are going to leverage this opportunity to the fullest—with plans to roll out a number of new products that will benefit our readers and advertisers alike. Voice Media Group will expand its digital product suite to include new mobile and online platforms, making content more accessible to readers and easier for advertisers to connect with the culturally aware consumer. Print will also still remain a core focus.

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About Sarah Erickson

Sarah comes from a background in multimedia journalism and scholarly research, recently joining Ebyline as the Content Manager. She graduated from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC and is a proud Trojan. Fight on!

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