NAME: Jim Larkin
COMPANY: Village Voice Media
D.O.B: June 16, 1949
PLACE OF BIRTH: Arizona
SUMMARY PROFILE: Under the gathering storm of a national coalition of clergymen, child advocates, anti-human trafficking groups, all states’ attorneys general, 19 U.S. senators and the media, a host of mayors from across the country and hundreds of thousands of concerned citizen who have signed a petition asking for the adult ads section to be removed from Backpage.com, Village Voice Media CEO and Chairman Jim Larkin has been mostly silent.
First Larkin let his brash-talking partner, Michael Lacey, do the talking, using the chain of alt weekly newspapers to attack critics of their sex-ad business. When that failed, Lacey hired attorney Liz McDougall to field media inquires and confront the critics. McDougall has not done any better refusing to answer questions as to how much the company makes from prostitution ads and being accused of “Doublespeak” for having the gall to claim that Backpage.com is “an ally in the fight against human trafficking” in the face of every state Attorney General saying Backpage is the problem.
While the angry and foul-mouthed Lacey controls what’s left of the editorial part of Village Voice Media, Larkin is behind the scenes – the numbers guy who runs the marketing and advertising parts of the business.
An Arizona native who claims to have grown up in a “Catholic ghetto,” Larkin is portly and red-faced as he enters his mid-sixties.
Ensconced in Village Voice Media’s Phoenix offices on the site of a former school, Larkin is responsible for the estimated $31 million a year in revenues that the Backpage.com sex ads produce. According to a company executive, who asked for anonymity, that figure accounts for a staggering one-seventh of the media firm’s total annual revenues.
Larkin, who has a son and, reportedly, a nephew working in the company’s advertising department, likes to stay out of the media spotlight - leaving that to partner Lacey and more recently to McDougall.
In a startling defense of the Backpage.com sex ads, which account for 80 percent of all online sex advertising in the U.S., Lacey had this to say to a reporter:
“I am beginning to like our odds. We have all these practicing politicians and concerned clergy after us. We must be doing something right.”
But, at times, Larkin does speak on the record and, when he does, he usually sticks his foot in his mouth.
Noting that online advertising accounts for 30-35 percent of the embattled alternative weekly newspaper chain’s business, Larkin told a reporter that the company will advertise just about anything that makes money.
“We have always had a very libertarian approach to advertising,” he said. We don’t ban cigarettes, we take adult advertising and we take ads that sell guns.”
That’s right. Village Voice Media will sell just about anything – including underage girls.
Facing the onslaught of the national campaign against Backpage.com, the financial and public relations stakes could not be higher for Larkin and Lacey who, over the course of their careers, have tangled with the Justice Department, lost a costly multi-million dollar lawsuit for predatory pricing with their San Francisco-market competitor, the Bay Guardian newspaper and have even been arrested by Maricopa County, Arizona deputies for publishing grand jury information.
That incident – which earned the pair mug shots - is linked to Village Voice Media’s long-running battle against the outspoken and conservative Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio.
In the Phoenix New Times’ story that precipitated their arrests, Larkin and Lacey spoke out by way of a bylined story. In the story, Larkin and his partner breathlessly intoned in a paragraph preceding their revelations of the grand jury information: “We pray that our judgment is free of arrogance.”
But arrogant they are, despite Larkin’s shallow rhetoric which was on full display when he gave an interview to Advertising Age magazine. Explaining Village Voice Media’s business philosophy, he said:
“We’ve always tried to be outrageous. That’s been part of our marketing approach. We try to keep people guessing. We try to get them emotionally involved.”
“Loyalty and responsibility is to the readership. Then the advertiser comes.”
Many would call those statements pandering to the largest possible audience that Village Voice Media can find and - with Backpage.com - of course the advertising comes first.
With the internet presence of the adult ads, young girls and women are not readers, but simply products to be sold by way of the online pipeline into the sordid underground world of pimps and sexual predators.
Now, with Village Voice Media defending the sex ads at all costs and the financial survival of the company itself at stake, Larkin is silent on the Backpage.com issue.
But, as one reporter found out when talking to Lacey, his partner can erupt in anger.
“Jim and I both have tempers that are to be reckoned with,” Lacey said. Given the scope of the rage, we both put seatbelts on our anger.”
In reality, Lacey usually keeps his unbuckled while Larkin has managed to keep his on – at least for now.
But how long will that last?
Every day the outcry over Backpage.com - and its exploitation of the innocent - grows louder,