Mayor Mike McGinn
In a short-and-sweet press conference Wednesday afternoon at City Hall, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles applauded the new ownership of Seattle Weekly and its sister papers across the country for the decision to separate from the classified advertising site Backpage.com, while vowing to continue the fight against the sexual exploitation of children.
Mayor Mike McGinn
The press conference came in response to Monday's announcement that a group of senior managers from Village Voice Media Holdings has purchased Seattle Weekly and its sister papers, relaunching under the name Voice Media Group and separating completely from Backpage.com - a site that has come under heavy fire for allegedly promoting underage prostitution by refusing to require proof that the escorts advertised are of legal age. Seattle Weekly has also announced it will immediately cease running escort ads.
While McGinn and Kohl-Welles noted on a number of occasions that there was still work to be done in the battle against Backpage.com and the sexual exploitation of children, both characterized the decision by Seattle Weekly ownership to split from Backpage.com as proof the pressure they've helped apply has been working.
"There was a growing call for Backpage.com to stop its practices. I believe it's in response to that that we've seen Seattle Weekly, and other affiliated newspapers around the country, disassociate themselves from Backpage.com," said McGinn. "We have been assured by Seattle Weekly that they're not going to associate themselves with Backpage.com, and in fact they're not even going to be doing escort advertising at this time. That's great news that these publications have decided to change their practices."
In response to Seattle Weekly's previous affiliation with Backpage.com McGinn had barred all city departments from advertising in the paper - a boycott which has now been lifted.
"As a result of the actions taken by Seattle Weekly, and their business practices moving forward, I've made it clear to my department heads that when the city advertises, and chooses to communicate with the public, they can choose to do so in Seattle Weekly, because they're not participating in this practice anymore," said McGinn. "At the same time, though, Backpage.com is still out there, they're still advertising, they're still accelerating the sexual exploitation of minors, and I will continue working with other mayors and with our state leaders on how we can address that. Because we need Backpage.com to stop as well."
Kohl-Welles also applauded the decision by Seattle Weekly's new ownership to split from Backpage.com, while remaining firm that, on a state level, she'll continue to pressure Backpage.com to change its ways.
"I'd like to say right away that I'm going to be very pleased to read Seattle Weekly again," said Kohl-Welles. "I've always enjoyed it, but I boycotted it on my own. Not in terms of placing ads, which I wasn't doing, but in stopping reading it."
"It's about time that was done," said Kohl-Welles of the decision by Seattle Weekly's new ownership to separate from Backpage.com.
"This is a big step. I congratulate Seattle Weekly. But I want to see more," Kohl-Welles continued. "To think that Backpage.com sued the state of Washington over our new law to keep it from going into effect [SB 6251], spending enormous amounts of money rather than, I think, simply just requiring age verification - that says a lot."
Backpage.com legal counsel Liz McDougall declined comment for this story.
While, up until this point, Seattle has been able to apply pressure locally to Backpage.com via Seattle Weekly, with efforts such as the mayor's advertising boycott of the paper, McGinn is confident that he - with help from other mayors across the country - will be able to keep the heat on Backpage.com and eventually prevail.
"What I would say is I think the pressure worked. Seattle Weekly does have a long history in this city, and as Senator Kohl-Welles pointed out they were a respected part of the community for a long time," said McGinn. "So they've changed their practices in response to the pressure that was brought. And the same thing was true of Craigslist, so we just have to maintain the pressure on Backpage.com, and it has to be at a national level."