NAME: Michael Lacey
COMPANY: Village Voice Media
POSITION: Executive Editor
D.O.B: July 30, 1948
PLACE OF BIRTH: Binghampton, NY
SUMMARY PROFILE: Coarse, brash, and profane.
Those are the three words that concisely describe Michael Lacey, executive editor and - with his partner Jim Larkin - a majority owner of Village Voice Media.
They are the manifestations of an explosive and – some would say – seething anger that courses through Lacey’s veins like blood.
Blood, as in blood money, to mark the upwards of $31 million a year that flows into Village Voice Media coffers from its 70 percent market of U.S. online sex advertising.
It’s an anger that Lacey seems proud of. As he told a reporter:
“I grew up in crummy neighborhoods and when you grow up and are treated like s#%@, you come up angry and you come up hating.”
Taking on all comers and competitors is something that Lacey relishes.
As one ex-Village Voice Media staffer said:
“Anger excites him,” while another former employee describes Lacey as a psychotic, a megalomaniac, and a man given to excess when there’s a bottle around.
In his sixties with hooded eyes permanently hidden behind spectacles, Lacey says that his start in journalism began in 1970 at Arizona State University when campus authorities refused to let Old Glory be lowered to half mast to mark solidarity with the four students killed at the Kent State tragedy.
Over time, that fledgling attempt at a student newspaper morphed into the alternative weekly Phoenix New Times whose mission - according to Lacey - was to uncover corruption and expose crooked politicians.
But at some point, that mission became lost, just as had the proud legacy of the Village Voice, now the rusted flagship of Village Voice Media, which had become a shell of its former self through the avarice of a succession of corporate owners.
As a Phoenix New Times staffer put it:
“Lacey started off as the counter-cultural hero and the revolutionary and now he’s become established at the center of a publishing empire. “He’s forgotten what it’s all about.”
Thus it was fitting that in 2005 when New Times merged with Village Voice Media (New Times kept the Village Voice Media name), that Lacey - through his henchmen - would hollow out the shell even further.
A glib-talking native of Binghampton, New York, with a self-admitted aversion to labor unions, Lacey had the following to say to a reporter after the merger was consummated. At the time, he had not yet addressed the Voice staff.
“Look,” Lacey said, “just because I don’t have eight reporters kneecapping George Bush doesn’t make me conservative. One is enough; the other seven can be looking for dirt on local politicians. The idea is not to let politicians get away with s#@*. Our papers have butt-violated every goddamn politician who ever came down the pike! The ones who deserved it. As a journalist, if you don’t get up in the morning and say ‘f@&# you’ to someone, why even do it?
But, seven years after the merger, that halcyon era of taking on noble causes has turned into a fight for financial survival as newspapers have shrunken, profits have turned to losses and the whole industry has seen an inexorable downward slide.
Now, Lacey is waking up each morning saying "F#@% you" only to those - namely child advocates - who threaten his cash cow, the adult ads on Backpage.com.
And he’s holding on tight to the tail of that cow as it takes a bitter bruising from advocacy groups, the clergy, lawmakers state and national, and a steadily-increasing desertion of Village Voice Media advertisers and readers.
When Lacey sees trouble ahead for his beloved empire, he never, according to sources, steps back and reflects on the nature of the problem and how to fix it. Instead, he blindly goes on the attack.
As he told a reporter:
“You wanna pick a fight? Great. We escalate.”
And fight he does, as Lacey himself admits: “I’m not easy to work with or around and I don’t run a warm and fuzzy organization.”
Along the way, he's made other enemies, besides the legion of critics up in arms over the travesty of Backpage.com. During the course of their careers, Lacey and Larkin have tangled with the U.S. Justice Department, lost a costly multi-million dollar lawsuit for predatory pricing with their San Francisco-market competitor, the Bay Guardian newspaper, and have done a stint in jail in Maricopa County, Arizona for publishing grand jury information.
And now, they have incurred the wrath of the right-wing group Ban Amnesty Now for their long-running feud with Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio. The organization has managed to use the Backpage.com controversy to get businesses in the Phoenix area to stop running ads in Village Voice Media.
For Lacey, 1970 must seem like a long, long time ago.
Now, it's all about the Backpage.com prostitution ad revenue, and he's trying to hang on to it. Before the latest underage sex scandal engulfed Village Voice Media and its classified ad web site Backpage.com, Lacey had this to say:
“Backpage.com has spent millions of dollars policing content – to keep underage kids out of listings.”
Now, in the wake of a national petition authored by leading national clergymen in a full page ad in the New York Times that has garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures, all states’ attorneys general, 19 U.S. senators and the media, a host of mayors from across the country all asking for the adult ads to be taken down, it turns out that Lacey’s efforts – or utterances – have proven hollow.
In response to critics bringing to light how Backpage.com has been facilitating underage sex-trafficking, orders went out from Lacey in Phoenix to the editors of all 13 papers in the Village Voice Media chain. In the next issue, all Village Voice Media titles ran a cover story that took issue with the nature and scope of the underage sex epidemic.
The story, much the same as a previous Village Voice Media cover story, disputes the findings of many experts who quantify and qualify statistics of underage sex victims – statistics that are widely accepted by children’s advocates across the U.S.
As to the question that has been asked by many critics: “Isn’t one victim too many?” Lacey and other Village Voice Media executives are silent.
And with good reason. The adult ads on Backpage.com are injecting $31 million per year into company coffers at a time when the chain has laid off approximately 30 editorial staffers.
Lacey and his boss Jim Larkin have a lot to lose. When the current iteration of Village Voice Media was formed in 2005, a trust controlled by Lacey and Larkin held 53 percent of the company’s shares. The duo are the largest individual shareholders in that trust.
And it looks like Lacey is ready to go down fighting.
As another reporter who has worked for Lacey tells it.
“With Lacey, you never know. You’re dealing with a shark. And you’re smiling and shaking hands. You leave the room and your arm is missing at the shoulder blade.”