Under new ownership, the newspaper says it will stop running the ads that critics said fostered underage prostitution.

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The Seattle Weekly is under new ownership, and its publisher in Seattle promises changes in its classified-ad policies, which critics say promote underage prostitution through Backpage.com.

“Seattle has been given the OK to pull all escort-based advertising out of the paper,” said Seattle Weekly publisher Kenny Stocker.

The Weekly and a dozen sister papers across the country have come under fire over the past year for escort ads featuring juveniles. Seattle police say girls are advertised by their pimps on Backpage.com, a website owned by Village Voice Media Holdings.

Village Voice Media Holdings announced Monday that it has sold the print publications to a new holding company based in Denver, Voice Media Group. The sale did not include Backpage.com, which will continue to operate on its own. Seattle Weekly won’t refer its readers to Backpage.com.

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The new owners said readers won’t notice big changes in the Weekly’s editorial content.

“We have a really great team in Seattle,” said Scott Tobias, CEO of Voice Media Group.

He declined to answer questions about the sex ads, other than to offer a one-sentence statement from a publicist that seemed contrary to what Stocker said:

“There will be no online adult classifieds in Seattle or in any market. Our print products will continue to operate with their current offerings,” it reads.

However, Stocker said the Weekly is different from the other print publications. He made a request to the new owners to stop accepting escort ads, and “they granted my request. Why they are not doing it elsewhere, I can’t speak to that,” he said.

Seattle Weekly will continue to advertise other adult businesses, including massage parlors and phone sex.

The escort ads were problematic because they could be placed online by pimps, without any proof that the women or girls depicted were adults. (The Weekly did require ID for escort ads placed in the print edition.) The escorts often were coerced into prostitution, according to police. By contrast, The Stranger, which runs escort ads on naughtynw.com, requires proof of age and identity.

Critics of Backpage.com included actor Ashton Kutcher, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and mayors around the country. Last year, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn pulled all city advertising from Seattle Weekly because of its escort ads.

Stocker said he’s hoping the new policy will lead the city to lift its boycott and prompt other advertisers to return to its pages, as well.

“My hope is it will help us,” he said.

Material from The Seattle Times archives and The Associated Press was included in this report.

Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

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