Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Weekly newspapers transformed journalism by transforming dating and sex

Weekly newspapers transformed journalism by transforming dating and sex

How alternative weekly classified ads were the original social media feed

The past two episodes of Theory of Change have focused on dating and sex, and I wanted to end the miniseries with a conversation that brings in the topic of media as well. Not just because the next episode arc we'll be doing is about the state of journalism, but also because media have played an important role in how people meet and form connections.

It seems forever ago now in 2024, but for many years, one of the ways that people went on dates was through a local newspaper and their personal ads. You’ve likely heard of them, even if you never used them: “Single white female seeking man for tennis and deep conversations.”

There were many other types of classified ad as well: “Got a trip to Spain coming up? Learn Spanish from the comfort of your own home with our great tutors!” And so on. Millions of short messages like these were the original social media feeds for communities, the place to figure out what the regular people around us were up to and what they were looking for.

And as it happened, some people were looking for sex workers. But strippers, escorts, and other such professionals weren't allowed to advertise in the respectable daily newspaper, so instead, they turned to their local alternative newspaper. In their heyday, alt-weeklies, as they were often called, were an industry that brought in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. They also produced a lot of great journalism—and the first real challenge to the bland and cowardly approach that even today dominates so much of mainstream media.

The story of the alternative weekly newspaper and how the former “counterculture” became the mainstream is one that Sam Eifling and his co-producers tell in a new podcast for Audible called “Hold Fast: The Unadulterated Story of the World’s Most Scandalous Website” that’s definitely worth a listen.

The transcript of our conversation is below. Because of its length, some podcast apps and email programs may truncate it. Access the episode page to get the complete text. The video of this episode is also available.

Photo montage: Flux. CC by SA.

Theory of Change is part of the Flux Media network, please support our work and get more content like this by subscribing on Patreon or Substack.

Related Content

Audio Chapters

00:00 — Introduction

07:27 — How Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey’s New Times revolutionized newspaper classified ads and later online adult ads

19:31 — How dating and hooking up via text advertisements worked

30:09 — Alt-weeklies were the first real challengers to the false promise of “objective” news reporting

36:24 — Before the “counterculture” won, libertarians thought they were on the political left

47:04 — How Backpage replaced alt-weeklies for sex workers trying to be safe

52:47 — The bipartisan prosecution of Backpage’s founders

01:05:57 — The personal story of a john named John

01:14:41 — Conclusion

Audio Transcript

The following is a machine-generated transcript of the audio that has not been corrected. It is provided for convenience purposes only.

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: I think a lot of people have never heard of Backpage at this point, whether being too young for it or not being [00:04:00] interested in those types of services. So why don't we start off by describing what Backpage was, and then we can get to where it came from.

SAM EIFLING: Sure. The simplest way to describe Backpage is that it was a knockoff of Craigslist, like a pure just, straight up Craigslist knockoff that eventually, because of the attitudes and past sort of business expertise of the owners, really became the go to red light district for sex ads on the internet for the better part of a decade.

It was a company that grew out of a company I used to work for. It was a newspaper company called New Times Inc. When when I started working there in the early two thousands, it was the biggest chain of alternative news weeklies in America. So these papers you would get, they were free. They were paid for by advertising display ads, which are usually what companies take out and classified ads, which are what individuals mostly take out.

Classified ads could be [00:05:00] selling your couch, selling your car, a help wanted ad.

And part of the New Times model for a long time was to welcome and encourage ads that had a sort of a grey zone of sexuality, right? So it could be massages, it could be escorts. I'm sure there were working prostitutes advertising at the Backpages, Backpages of New Times papers and probably helping to pay my salary and that of other reporters. It really wasn't our business to focus on at the time. But as that model fell apart, as Craigslist came in, especially, and started disrupting the entire online classified ecosystem, and these papers started wondering how are we going to get the money to pay for the journalism, executives at New Times came up with the idea of essentially running the same style of ads that they ran in the papers online in a Craigslist like format.

And over the years, that became increasingly [00:06:00] a lightning rod for attention and negative attention, especially when it came to people who would go to the media or appear in in different venues and say: “I was trafficked via Backpage. Someone held me against my will and advertised me as a sort of basically a prostitute or at that point, really a victim of a crime of sex trafficking on Backpage.”

And with a few of those accusations out of millions and millions of ads, there became this groundswell. The groundswell led to activism. The activism fed into political pressure. Political pressure led to the arrest of the main characters in our show, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin. Years ago it started this chain of, alternative news weeklies, and now we're being arrested by the FBI and charged with essentially facilitating prostitution at probably the largest scale that's ever [00:07:00] been, accused in the history of the U. S. government. They were basically saying, you guys are, in the biggest pimps in the history of of America.

And they were thrown in jail and taken to trial. And so that's sort of where we picked up is, the beginning of the show is the arrest of, of Lacey and Larkin, and by the end we're, we're at a, a federal trial to hear, to hear the government make their case against, against Backpage and the Backpage executives.

How Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey's New Times revolutionized classified ads and weekly newspapers

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, it's a, and it's a story that. It's a, it's a really important story more than you would think. I think for people who, like, Oh, I would never place a adult classified ad, or, I would never go to a prostitute or whatever.

There's, there's some, a lot of real implications to all this, both where they came from, and, and the case against them.

So let's maybe step back then to the beginning here. In 2024, it's like, It seems a world removed in many ways, this industry that these, these guys really kind of started [00:08:00] and of alternative newspapers.

And a lot of this, I mean, it really got started with the village voice out of out of New York City in the 1950s, and then kind of, there were a bunch of, Sort of self styled underground newspapers that were kind of run by anti war college students primarily in the 60s and 70s. And then it became a business with these guys.

So, why don't you talk, tell us about that and what they were doing. What they, what did they discover that people had missed certainly.

EIFLING: Yeah, it is. it's to me, I'm born, I think age is a big part of this. So I can just say born in 1980.

And when was a college student thinking about getting into newspapers or journalism at all, newspapers were still really king newspapers and magazines. And I think a lot, as a lot of did probably in that age. before there were blogs, before there were podcasts, you might think about starting your own paper, [00:09:00] right?

It was, it was something you could, you could write, you could print, you could, you could report, you could have a voice, you could raise hell and distribute it. And that was a model that had been around for a long time.

In the case of the Village Voice, it started in the mid fifties in New York and sort of set the template, right? Which was a paper that was adversarial to the entrenched power structures in the city, including the existing media, which I think was a big part of what, I anybody now who, gets or a lot of I don't know how many vlogs are picking apart the mainstream media.

Well, that used to be the role of these, kind of insurgent newspapers and news gathering organizations.

But what, what made New Times different, what made New Times successful was that found a business model to go with it. So our, our really our protagonist the show is a guy named Mike Lacey. Mike Lacey was a college student at the at Arizona State University in the early 70s, and he and a bunch of friends put together this anti Vietnam War protest paper. [00:10:00] At first, it was a collective. It was chaotically run. I'm sure with the ideals of the day in mind as they set the business structure, which was basically no business structure at all.

And when I worked at New Times, very famously, Mike Lacey would talk about having donated plasma in the early days to keep the paper going right? These guys were broke. They're having fun. They're raising hell, but they Jim Larkin. Who was not a journalist, but who really enjoyed journalism and appreciated good journalism approached the paper sometime it started and said, look, I think you guys have a really good thing going. I Also think you don't know what you're doing on the business side I have a lot of ideas.

And essentially Larkin didn't invent this model But I think he ran it very well, which was to sell a lot of small ads in the paper that maybe were coming from businesses sort of, they were selling these ads to businesses that were too small to advertise in the in the big [00:11:00] daily, which was the Arizona Republic in phoenix.

So if you ran a very small business, or if you were a one person, if you were like a person giving guitar lessons, you were a handyman, or you were you were the kind of seamstress who would patch up people's clothes. Like this is the kind of stuff that, you know, you probably wouldn't place an ad in the daily, might just flyers around your neighborhood, but here comes this paper. The space is cheaper. You can buy small ads and you can participate in the community through your advertising, right?

You, you become, you have a platform effectively. If you buy a little piece of this paper, the genius of classified ads, the absolute, the key to classified advertising. They're really two one, they are really small, but because they're small, you can sell them basically at a premium on the page. So if one page of advertising holds just one ad, that ad costs a lot of money.[00:12:00]

But you have holds 200 ads collectively, those 200 ads add up to a lot more money than you would charge for the one. It's more work to put them in and also just know, it's, it's it's like any kind of, like, parceling up of a, of real estate, right? The smaller you cut it, the more you can sell, the more total sales value you're probably going to get out of it. So what happened in these papers, New Times especially, but The Voice did this, they could run literally thousands of these ads.

And these ads were run by so many people from so many walks of life that, No one advertiser really had editorial say over the paper, which was key. If you had one big ad and one big advertiser, that company, and it was always a company at that point, that company would expect to have some leverage against paper.

And they would. And dailies they did, anywhere, anywhere a big advertiser is funding a lot of the work of a journalism organization, they have a lot of say whether whether [00:13:00] the journalists even realize it or not, right? The owners make way for for a big advertiser. If there are thousands and thousands of advertisers, if it's that democratic, that collective and that many people are coming in, you can run a lot of material in the paper that could potentially piss a lot of them off.

But be fine because if 10 people walk out, you don't really right? There's so many people advertising that it effectively creates this way of community support, financial support for a newspaper, a news venture, and New Times ran that model very well. They ran it in in Phoenix, and then eventually they saw other weekly papers around the country.

This is in the early, mid nineties. Actually, I guess, yeah, the early, mid nineties is really when they started to expand and they saw other papers that maybe were doing good journalism that had the, had the instincts to cover their city really aggressively and and to connect with a community of readers, but maybe they didn't have the business down.

And so [00:14:00] gradually New Times started buying up these papers. They went to Denver, they went to Miami. They went to San Francisco and where they went, they would buy a paper that maybe wasn't making as much money as it could. They sort of install their software, a way of thinking of it. Their, their business--

SHEFFIELD: Their formula.

EIFLING: Their formula, which they took lot of shit for over the years, like having a formula, but they became very financially successful. And through that through a zillion teeny tiny ads, right, from people every walk of life, walking, walking into the newspaper with up to the ad window, sometimes dictating an ad, sometimes having it written down they were making at the time I guess 2005, they eventually merged the Village Voice Company and New Times.

And when those two companies merged, they created a company that had Even though Craigslist was eating into their model at that, at that stage, then it combined [00:15:00] revenue of almost 200 million a year.

It was a giant And that was off of, I think, 17 papers. And there was big money to be made, and a lot of. Bare journalism that just would not have any place, in many cases, at the Daily Papers because it was just too it was too unfriendly to kind of the, the ethos that most papers maintain to be to be the kind of like network TV of, of their city, right?

These papers could be HBO or something more aggressive, something a little more adult, something a little more risk taking. And for a lot of journalists that made an attractive place to go try to start a career.

SHEFFIELD: For people, I think, especially who kind of built. This alt weekly model. They, and the people who worked in it, at the, at the high level, I don't think they really understood that how abnormal this was and that this was a moment in history that was so [00:16:00] completely unique.

Nothing like that had ever really been done before. And and it was fleeting with, with the rise of a Craigslist and, and social media.

EIFLING: I think. I think that's right. I think we got a good, I know, 40 year run out of it, which I was lucky enough to grab a little piece of and a lot of my co creators too, we were, we were of a generation that look backward, enjoy the heyday, really the peak. We were there at the financial peak of alternative weeklies and maybe the cultural peak.

And I think as the internet atomized journalism in different ways. The cultural need for a paper that did the things that those papers did also kind of dispersed, right? Like, they were very aggressive about covering music and culture and well, I mean, that's TikTok now, right? That's instagram.

There's so many people [00:17:00] who have become mainstream. Yeah. Experts on those sorts of things in their cities, you no longer need a newspaper to be the arbiter of where to go on a date this right? You don't need to pick up the paper to find concert listings mean, think about the days where, like, you didn't know what movies.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, you got, yeah, you got Fandango. You got Yelp.

EIFLING: You've got all of it, right?

SHEFFIELD: Or even in your maps app.

EIFLING: Yeah, it's, the, it really is the took apart the, departments of, of weekly newspapers, papers too, but just focusing weeklies, it took took and. who just loved those subject areas, I kind of just started doing mean, let's take Craigslist, Craig Newmark.

Sometime, I don't know when he moved to San Francisco, was, he was the Bay Area in the 90s, and was new to town, and had given him recommendations on go shows, what bars to hang out in, or [00:18:00] he was into at the time. those recommendations from people.

And so he decided, man, I now know the well enough. want to give my own recommendations on this stuff. So he started Craig's list of basically just like stuff to do around the Area. And it out of generous spirit. I all had in a certain town and they do we go?

And they say, all right, well, here's my top 10 recommendations. he was kind of doing that on a rolling basis. And as he got a large enough list, he made it gave a more formal structure and kind of operationalized it and built on this classified site, which turned into a literal website of world historic importance and in what it did publishing in America.

And, but it came out that same impulse, It's like, I some cool stuff. I know people are looking for cool stuff. I'm just going to tell him what I think is cool. And this conversation. And so [00:19:00] think that large, that writ by everybody who has a publishing platform now always going to make it really tough for papers to exist because much of what got do was a conversation now lot more people lead a lot more conversations and their, their to and there are benefits to

And, but but it was a completely different time for, for us. Understanding a city understanding was to do and who who had to say it's completely You're right.

How dating and hooking up via text classified ads worked

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and in addition to that, at the sort cultural level it also definitely was the case that this was a unique. Model in terms of what it did for dating and sex and things like that, that, I, and we, you talked about it a little bit earlier but you know, the, the idea that, because, I mean, obviously call, prostitution, the oldest profession.

So people have always done it and they did it before the old [00:20:00] weekly. But doing it became a lot more manageable for people. They pre screen their clients. this was not something that, somebody who was just working really could ever do back the day,

And so with the rise of the, the, adult ads in, in these papers and then later within Backpage know, some of the And dating websites. I mean, this was This was something completely different, but that I, think is interesting and unique about the, the sex ad in the old paper is that these were ads. These were, you were interacting with someone, but it was only based on like now, you, you look at, whether Tinder, Bumble, whatever it is, you see And that tells you nothing really about who they are. Not really.

And [00:21:00] so it's, whereas, with, with these classified ads, you could actually see how somebody thought. thing you could see about it. I mean, what's, what's your

EIFLING: I think that's, yeah, there's a few vectors there that I admit I never dated Via classifieds, right? I'm the, I'm at that generational cusp where I was born earning a salary from that, but I was never my dating scene. So in course of reporting the show, I had to go back and ask people who, who did use classifieds, right?

And, and there are a lot different ways, a lot of different entry points, but one couple who I found in San Francisco who married based on ads that they 90s, Ed and Lisa I talked to, I to their home and I asked them, hey, how did this work? it?

And the way they did which I think a, was common model at the time, And there are certainly like, degrees of classifieds. [00:22:00] Let's just, let's just be, be clear in the way that there are adult dating sites versus just dating sites, right? There, there are certainly a myriad different dating apps.

These that have different levels of of different. They have different cultures, right? Different cultures, different of you're going to find and what people are going to be based on what you can assume they are. And I think the same was true for placing personal ad in a paper. So Ed and Lisa found each other through the mutual appreciation of a paper the San which was competitor to New Times Francisco.

And back then, you place an in the personals section and the personal section would, as say, have just some writing about yourself. Right? It would probably list some you people how old you are. would tell people your your age, usual things.

You might [00:23:00] educational background. You might say what sort of industry or field you work in. And then want to, yeah, I think be charming in a small Sometimes way to be charming is to you're 6'4 right?

That's fine. to be charming is to say you have an athletic build and you really enjoy a certain, certain like exercise pastimes that, know, you want somebody surfer, like say you're surfer, right? Whatever, whatever that is.

And in the and Lisa, Lisa placed the ad and she kind of had charming patter go the models that no longer exist who wanted to respond to that called a number and it was like 1 a minute or 50 a minute and you left voicemail for Lisa. Right? So if I read Lisa's Lisa seems really don't get to swipe on her and she back. Right. have to pay money to [00:24:00] call. 900 number at time, leave a voicemail. It's going to charge credit card.

in that, and this is what happened with Ed he, he had been a college radio DJ in his day. He, he had very good voice and was charming on his message. He mentioned that he think he's, I think he's 6'4 that he, he would tell him that he looked like Jeff Goldblum is the early nineties that Jeff Goldblum, early 90s Goldblum, 6'4 with a radio DJ voice is good.

So he leaves his message and Lisa calls him back. But what she was telling me was that once she plays the ad, and I don't know what she the ad, if anything, the bay Guardian ran for as long as she left in. Because, Probably people are reading it and they're like responding to And as long as ad paper calling the number, that's the money. that was, that was the old model was had to pay to try to court this, you know, this anonymous person who you only know through [00:25:00] 40 words of type or something.

I don't know was. It was it was short. And then you would call and leave the voicemail. So, a little bit people and the way that I think if you're on Tinder, Hinge, whatever. Like, you know, a little bit and you just of hope that you bring your best self and that whatever is the little bit that you can reveal in that small somebody else responds to.

So it very much, I think, of a to that dance, in a different way. And you're without an image of somebody, you really have to you have, you have to, you have to people with other, other wiles, right? have to bring, bring other stuff to table. Yep. Yeah. And then there was also a genre and you guys did talk about it in the show.

Also that there was the, sort of the, the spotted Type of classified personal ad where, essentially proclaim their infatuation with someone that they saw somewhere in a random moment. And like, I, I don't, that sort of thing is gone now, I think. But for those who [00:26:00] aren't familiar with that tell us about those.

I used to love this on Craigslist. So as a sort of a sidebar of this, Craigslist used to run personals. They no longer do. Craigslist dropped out of that game. Amid the pressure that Backpage stirred up, Craigslist was also in the in the crosshairs of Congress and Whereas Backpage basically said come at me bro. Craigslist was like peace too much heat. We're getting out of this game.

But Craigslist used to have the most fun read anywhere. I thought, were the missed Connections, right? It's what you're talking about, which is usually the I was riding the bus, I was on, I was in line at this coffee shop or, or I was riding my bike and I saw this amazing person and we had this tiny interaction and you, it's, it's this kind of letter in a bottle that somebody just throws into the ocean-- is the internet of whatever city and they say, you were wearing this, you were about this tall. You said this to me. I said this to you. I should have gotten your number. And, let's get together.

And it [00:27:00] feels like those are usually written by guys, but they're, they were this wonderful, I don't know, sort of like sub genre of like inner interior monologues that people were having all over the city.

And you really got to see what people wish they'd said in the moment, or maybe there was a reason they couldn't say what they wanted to say, they tried something and it didn't quite work whatever, but you really got to sort of see inside people's hopes romantically and people's regrets, oddly, right?

Like an instant regret situation you say, Oh man, I should have, why didn't I just, if I'd only, I could have. And, and as a genre, I, those have been around a long time. Those were in the Village Voice for years.

There was a the movie, the Madonna movie from the eighties desperately seeking Susan was kind of based on some of the same same premises in those ads, right? So those have been around a long time. But there I think you're right. They're pretty much gone these days. I follow at least one Instagram account. I can't remember what [00:28:00] called that does that in New York, that there are still misconnections partly because. They're so entertaining, which is the other part of what made classified such a strong component of these papers for so long.

They're entertaining. You read that want it. It's like it would be like looking inside of somebody like the city's tender profiles and you're just kind of like scanning these. And what are people, what are people doing to try to find each other? What are the risks that they're taking, which is always part of dating, always part of trying to find somebody is like taking a risk of some kind, right?

And When you see people walking through like I should have taken more of a I have put myself out there. Here's who I am. Here's who I know. you are, you're out there and I can tell you a story. So I actually did. I used to be, this is years ago, but I loved reading those so much.

And it was always so frustrated that people didn't like, walk up to somebody and start a conversation. And so I actually placed a misconnection for myself in the misconnections. I was like, I was in New York. I was like [00:29:00] 26 years old. I was like, look, I can't. I don't understand why nobody talks to anybody.

I'm gonna be at the Natural History Museum. I look like this. I'm gonna be walking around this time. Come up and talk to me if you see me right. I've placed like a like a preview misconnection for people.

And I ended up not even go to the museum. I was too sleepy, too sleepy and lazy that day. But somebody wrote me back this woman, her name is Heather, and she was a cook in New York. And she said, Hey, this was really funny. I also I have the same reaction to these I won't make it to the museum. I'm sorry, but I invited her to a house party we ended up dating for a little while because I was like, Hey, you seem cool. Like come to this party.

And she did. And then here we were in New York. Right. And so, I think that was the one like weirdly successful wormhole I went through on a misconnection to actually connect with somebody, but it was, It came out of that shared sense of like, are people kidding? Like, step and ask her her name, man.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah.

EIFLING: Yeah.[00:30:00]

SHEFFIELD: that's lost and, it's, it's worth remembering it or knowing about it. You never heard

Alt-weeklies as the first real challengers to the false promise of "objective" news reporting

SHEFFIELD: There was a political component as well to these papers that we're talking about as well that, that as you were saying, that a lot of the sort of family papers, as you guys refer to them the general interest newspaper, like the, Cleveland plane dealer, Kansas city star, et cetera, et cetera, Amy Harold. They, strictures on them, editorially speaking that, in, in many ways we're kind of seeing a recapitulation of that with the Republican party nationally, having gone so completely insane that, a lot of the national press organizations, they are afraid to say that and afraid to tell the full truth about the Republican party.

And, but this is a dynamic that has always existed, ever since the [00:31:00] invention of mainstream journalism, quote unquote and the idea of, object objectivity as a, as a business proposition.

And, and it was always absurd because of course, believed it necessarily, especially if it was about something that they knew about I think everybody's had that experience that, when you, when you know about, it's something that I feel that you work in or something that you have is a really big hobby and you read about it.

And, publications, a lot of times you'll be like, nah, that's wrong. Or that's, that's not fair or whatever it is. So it was always a flawed model, but you know, it's collapsing on itself, I think, at the, on the national scale, but you know, the Alt Weekly is kind of, they expose that on the, on the local level as well.

EIFLING: Yeah. There's a, certainly there's always a component of language policing that we all do with ourselves all the time, every day at scale, at a business, the kind of business that a daily wanted [00:32:00] to be, which is essentially a monopoly. In, in town. Right? They want to be the 1 stop shop, but they also wanted to be. For the most part, inoffensive, right?

I think, if you ever read a daily paper, place where you see that attitude, I think, carried out the most is on the, with the, like, the comics. If you, if you read the funny pages, whatever it was. Most newspaper comics really suck. They are so boring. They're not funny. They're, they're really just pretty much like the definition of content as this kind of regurgitated stuff that you open it up and you're like, oh yeah, that's what beatle Bailey is doing today. It's not funny.

And then you think of underground comics, right? Underground comics, Are so dynamic and so lively and so alive and so weird and funny and maybe sexy and dark and touch upon human experience in this way that like the kind of the stuff served up in the paper every day is like just isn't I think you can, you can certainly amplify that out and yeah, that [00:33:00] we're just, you didn't want to offend in certain ways. The, the phrase that you'd always hear working at Dailies and I started my career at Dailies and I went to a journalism school at Northwestern that was oriented toward the culture of Dailies.

And so part of the culture of dailies is people are going to read this over breakfast. Imagine a person who doesn't want to be hit with a certain level of, like, sexuality or, or graphic violence or whatever are the things that could put somebody off as they eat their grapefruit and drink their coffee, right?

You're writing for that person. A person who in the, in the sort of like imagination of the paper is person easily offended who might cancel their subscription or write an angry letter or call the publisher, going to happen. And so most of you're there to do is like not rock the table.

Some news. It's just gonna be scary or, or off putting like there's, [00:34:00] that's just the way news is. But, but so much of what the paper coached internally reporters to do and editors to think about is like, don't offend anybody needlessly, right?

Well, but like, okay, like life is hard and there's a ton of things that we talk about, a ton of subjects we don't talk about that. can hit people the wrong way.

if you never, if you're never going to put yourself in a position to disturbed, well, you're going to have a view of reality that's just a little warped, right. kind of self policing is a big danger of what you're talking about. If, and if you say, I think now certainly there's a lot of, a lot of the culture war, a lot of the sort of left, right bite over reality comes down to what words do we use?

Right. What comes down to, I mean, just, it's just extraordinary to me how how much mileage [00:35:00] the, the sort of like, tut, tut right has gotten out of a pronouns. Right. And I think, and I think really the strategy there is to say, you're policing our language, so we're going to police your language. And it becomes this weird, like mirror upon mirror effect,

But I think that that battlefield has been really opened up, partly because people don't read the dailies anymore. The exist because they kind of moderated things right?

And I I don't moderate in terms of like a debate moderation, but it was a place that that moderates had really the stage, right?

And, and I think we have removed moderates from a lot of the content and a lot of the media that we absorb. And so what we get are people who are really pissed off on both sides feeding algorithms that feed us more of that. And so we're back to having language wars when a of it was just kind of, it was understood like you just you use [00:36:00] certain language.

It didn't use certain language, whereas at new times we got to use certainly certainly in quotes, right? A lot more profanity and a lot more. Color in the language than, than we would ever get away with in the daily. And it was really fun, but it also helped you capture life as it happened and not be not pretend everything was, was PG rated when life is, life isn't.

Alt-weeklies enabled libertarians to intersect with progressives in a way that's almost entirely disappeared

SHEFFIELD: And the other interesting thing is that they were conceived in sort of. This moment where Libertarians saw that they were anti-conservative. And basically, essentially what happened is that a lot of things that were perceived as counter-cultural such as being openness to drugs or.

Like, supporting marijuana legalization or supporting prostitution legalization, or, being saying profanities on stage, things like [00:37:00] that.

EIFLING: Access to abortion, right? Access to abortion is a big one.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And so. Those things became mainstream and so essentially libertarianism bifurcated and joined up with its right wing origins and and and some of that story played out in the in the all weekly world as well.


EIFLING: I think that's right. I think what used to be counter cultural. Lit. And in some ways it won, right? Like we now, it's not like, i, I wasn't alive in the early seventies, but from all accounts, oh my gosh, there was just no recognition that anything but heterosexuality was the default mode that everybody was issued upon birth.

And we just didn't talk about anything else. Right. And it wasn't until, The riot, which literally happened across the street from the old village voice office and the voice, which was not particularly progressive on this, on this particular issue. They were kind of, an old straight boys club, like everybody else.

At the time they looked out their [00:38:00] window, watched these, this like gay bar blow up and get into a riot with the cops are like, well, we have to go cover this. And have to discuss this issue. We have to talk about civil rights for people who aren't the sort of like nuclear family from the fifties that everybody had been kind of like boxed in by.

I think, I you're right. It, there wasn't a shattering in a way. And I think, though, strangely, we're coming back to it, right? It's coming back around in this way that it felt like many of the, many of the reasons for there to be a counterculture. eventually won the day. I think drug laws, certainly compared to the 70s, are far less draconian nationwide.

That's changing very slowly, but man, what a difference between now and when I was a kid.

I mean, to think that today in New york City, like, they basically just don't prosecute marijuana possession, and to think of the untold lives wrecked by that [00:39:00] before over basically a Nixon era campaign against people he didn't like. I mean, his. Is a big sea change, right?

But now we're back to, for instance, arizona its 160 year old abortion law that roe v. Wade had, had tamped down. We're, we're back in the, we're back in the Civil War. I mean, literally, we're back in Civil War days if you want health care and before, 50 years before women could vote and, and that's where we are, right?

SHEFFIELD: You're also seeing it like in, in Florida with these book ban laws, like, the Republicans went back to it.

And, and then largely it is because the Libertarians let them do it. That's really they need to, wake the fuck up. It's what I would say

EIFLING: I think it's funny because I and I made this joke with my with my co producers on this is, for a long time, I think in recent years, libertarians and the [00:40:00] religious right have been have been sort of linked arms right in places like Texas.

But I think they're both going to be really unhappy. If either of them gets what, what they want, right, if libertarians really get what they want, like the religious rights gonna be pissed off and if, and if religious, if the religious right gets what they want, true libertarians, and I don't think there are that many, frankly, true libertarians I think they're gonna be pissed off.

There's this, politics, weird bet, strange bedfellows and all that. But certainly I think if people were ideologically consistent libertarians instead of this sort of like authoritarians in sheep's clothing, as I think a lot of libertarians have proven to be there, they would be consistent on things like government interference in your personal life, including who you marry, who you have sex with, if it's consenting adults, can you, can you, can you advertise that you are a person who is gonna have sex with people. Can you do it for money?

All of that would seemingly be things libertarians would be in [00:41:00] favor for, I think what we find is libertarianism, these days as it exists, mostly belongs to men, and most of it isn't really ideologically consistent with anything except laws that certain men want to see put in, put into play, frankly if, if I benefit themselves.


EIFLING: Or just to benefit their glandular to world. I mean, I don't even think it's really consistent or don't think a benefit. There's not a benefit to most men For women not to be able to access health care and get an abortion this is like it's like guys have you played this out on your checkerboard of life like what happens if sex becomes life threatening to people. Do you think you're gonna have more sex or less?

And it, it stuns me to, to see the, the zeal with which men want to, men in particular want to clamp down on women's behavior [00:42:00] and to imagine the world think gonna inherit when, when they're successful that. It's not one. not one that is make you happy. It's not gonna, it's not gonna peaceful. it's not gonna be enjoyable. And and yet here we are, we're fighting these fights without, in some like, without sense of history or without the sense of place that I think frankly, good local journalism can provide help ground in a, in a reality.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and yeah, and that is definitely a thing that's missed is that as these conversations and different topics have, have, sort of bifurcated into their own realms, the things that people like let's say if you were primarily interested in reading an alt weekly for the music reviews or the restaurant reviews, like that was why you picked it up. But you would still look at these other because they were there and it was easy. Right. But now if you're, somebody who's just like a hardcore foodie or, you're a heart, you're [00:43:00] dedicated to two or three musical groups or whatever.

You can look at, Only those things. And you don't have to see anything else and you don't get educated about any other issue or any topic. And it really has. I think that's kind of a dilemma that Joe Biden is in right is that I think a lot of people who, I mean, when you ask Americans in polls, do you support same sex marriage or do you support birth control?

Do you support marijuana legalization, any of these variety of things that has a vast majority support. Many of the people who have those viewpoints have no idea that there is a party that is trying to take those things away from you. They want to take your contraception. They want to take your, right to get an abortion.

They're going to do it. They're going to make your kids pray in their fashion in school. These are their goals. And they don't even know that this is happening. Because they, they don't have any exposure to the media.

EIFLING: I think there's also a sense along those lines. I think there's a sense of, well, that's [00:44:00] not really gonna happen. Well, okay. Yes. If you can totally can. has in the past. Think there a lot of people who never thought Roe would be overturned partly because It was so good for the republican base To never be able to get to the end of something, right?

It was this, was this telenovela you would always tune into. Republicans are like, tune in next week with your donation dollars as we try to overturn abortion. Everybody's like, man, they just keep making all kinds of money off this. And then, the strangeness of the Trump administration getting to install three judges in four years bites everybody on the ass.

And you say, No, these guys were serious. Like they were serious. And I think it would be folly not to take them to at their word. I think I think it is more certainly seems more real then it had been for a long time. The idea that really fundamental questions of American democracy and American rights, [00:45:00] that we had been conditioned to expect could could be overturned. And in fact, there wouldn't be a place to go to really appeal that that that wouldn't be like a do over. It's a bit like Brexit, right?

I think there were a lot of people in the UK who are like, we're not really gonna do this, right? Like, we're not this. We're not serious. And then you see,

SHEFFIELD: I don't have to vote on it.

EIFLING: you watch this. Yeah, or like, this just isn't a big deal. And then it passes barely. And then you see this, the news stories the next day about how many Google searches there were In the U. K. For what is Brexit, right? I think we're at that point where it's like, Wait, what is what is a wait? Contraception like we're not going to have contraception like that just doesn't compute with people. And I think there are and this is my area of expertise at all. But I think there are a lot of journalists who are who are working really hard right now to try to do those stories that get beneath the surface of what certain political leaders.

And I think there are a lot of journalists who are who are working really hard right now to try to do those stories that get beneath the surface of what certain political leaders. True religious backgrounds are and what they might ascribe to and what they might do. And it's [00:46:00] way more serious than I think a lot of people have given it credit for.

And, I, I come at it from the journalism world. I think we should have more coverage of the results of elections. I think that'd be terrific. think we live in a country where because of the electoral college, I think we There are really only about 10 states every four years that decide the presidential election.

We have been conditioned to just not really participate in ways that I think really the kinds of and kinds aims that you're describing. Because truly it just does not matter if most of us participate and that's so deeply structural it will never change in

And that, I think it, the well, frankly, to change through action or political attention. may as well just like, watch and go about our, our lives very, very hard turn those things back if [00:47:00] if they flip.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

How Backpage replaced alt-weeklies for sex workers trying to be safe

SHEFFIELD: Um, so, just now to go back to your, to the story you guys are telling with the, so, so Craigslist comes along and destroys the newspaper industry basically. And a lot of that is their own fault because these executives, they thought that this was forever what they were doing.

They didn't realize it was abnominally. And they, and they thought you could get away running a business with 20 or 30 percent profits forever. When no business was like that almost, like it, well, and yeah, like from literally no business other, other than a few years timespan industry will last that long with that kind of just never happens, never and these guys, they, they, they just sat on their ass and, and their business was taken away from them by their own negligence. And so, and, and that was also the case guys, as, as [00:48:00] you guys talk about that, they, they knew Craigslist was out there, but they didn't really, paid too much attention to it and until it kind of completely destroyed the weekly business.

So then, as you said, they, they went over and started Backpage and Backpage, and I have to say like Backpage in its heyday, it, it was very important for sex workers to be able to, get a living and in a way that was safe for them. And I mean, you, you want to talk about that aspect For for a little bit here, if you,

EIFLING: Yeah, that's. I so I'm not a person who ever used. Backpage or used, I know, like, to me, back, I was a little naïve in, in my 20s and 30s, but on a show this, you sort start to see, like, oh yeah, this is, this was more of a thing.

People would really advertise, like, sexual services, and it would be, be online, and reply to [00:49:00] that, and then they would go exchange money, and have sex, and the world would keep turning, and Backpage would keep a little piece of and take an even smaller piece of and give it to, give it to newspapers to keep them running. What's so wild to me about what Backpage did from people that we talked to making this story and sex workers that we quizzed about it, they all really liked it. And it was, it was such a contrast talking to people who advertise on Backpage or use Backpage or who were sex workers.

And it might not be, look, it might not be prostitution. It could be, it could be running a dungeon. It could be a of different things that people advertise for. So I don't want to say it was like, all prostitution. wouldn't be the case, but, the public perception of a place of a lot of

And there were terrible things that happened out of the ads that people placed in Backpage and on Craigslist. [00:50:00] As, look, I mean, you get millions of people connecting and a lot of them are expecting sex or, or, people get into sexual situations for power dynamics and, and, know, when people got killed, we don't want to minimize that one bit, right?

But it a very small number compared with the millions and millions of ads that were going And what sex workers told us was that in those more or less in the open, as Backpage gave them the opportunity to do, that gave them control of the market in a way that they didn't have when they were advertising in more clandestine ways. Right?

So if you were advertising your services on Backpage, you might have, because it was so available and open and obvious. And just easy to access for anybody. you might dozens [00:51:00] or hundreds of replies from your you don't have to accept dozens or hundreds of people, your clients or your customers, or, know, whatever term you want to use in this your date, you sift through that. You can be really picky. You can find people who have a good reputation among other people, are in your same business. You can vet aggressively. You don't have to take. The first guy who shows up your door, whatever that is.

And so for a lot people who were using Backpage, they felt like they had more They had more safety and they had a better sort of social network that they could use to, to regulate, self regulate the marketplace than they had without it. When it went away the description that we got from sex worker advocate was that it was, it was total chaos, right? It was, it was a lot fear and it was a lot of income lost and it was a big scramble.

And what came immediately afterwards for women who were advertising on Backpage [00:52:00] were men who wanted essentially to be like managers or pimps or whatever term you want to use, people who said hey, I can help you find clients now. Well, listen, man, like pimps suck. Like, You don't, we shouldn't, we shouldn't glorify pimps. Pimps are, pimps are not, like, in a perfect world, we would not have people who take a cut of of dangerous and in, in many cases extremely personal profession for with the, the threats of violence, the threats of like financial imbalance, everything that comes with that taking Backpage at least we were told our reporting on this, really put a lot of women in what they felt was a precarious position which was, again, as I say, kind of a fascinating perspective on because if you follow the congressional hearings,

The bipartisan prosecution of Backpage's founders

EIFLING: If you looked at what the FBI wanted to say, what the, what the feds have said, it really is this even in the federal trial many of these ads were brought in as evidence and the term that the federal government used the prosecutors used [00:53:00] was these are victims on Backpage. It's I don't really see a victim here. I see somebody who's putting a picture of themselves in a low cut on the Internet.

We could we could argue about the merits of that or whether that should be legal or, any number of, of approaches to that. But to call that person, the victim who placed their own ad and is saying, like, come over and, spend time with me and pay me money. And then we'll go our separate ways. Victim seems to me a bit a bit over the line, right?

I think it's I think it's rounding up in situation. but it was the perspective of the government that people advertising on Backpage were were being yeah, we're being exploited. And so it's like, and therefore the people running Backpage were criminals running, basically a criminal enterprise And it's it really, I think, calls, if you really go into it, it really calls into questions a lot of assumptions we have about the place of sex work and advertising sex work in [00:54:00] American society.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and it's also I mean numerically You if you look at people making these similar types of ads on Or let's say posts we'll call them making posts of this nature There's a lot more of them on Facebook.

There's a lot more of them on Twitter or Instagram. I mean, that is the reality. Like there are a lot of people who are sex workers who, are their trade on But the fact that it's a lower percentage of the posts, that's really the only difference, on here.

EIFLING: I will tell you one other difference. Facebook is a giant company. New times was small. Twitter is a giant company. New times was didn't have the pockets. They defend themselves in the And I think we've always, as Americans have accepted that going to be some level of discourse [00:55:00] or advertising that talks about prostitution or sexual services.

I mean, I, I wasn't kidding earlier. It used to be in the yellow pages. Like when there were yellow pages back when people did that. There were a lot of escort ads in big cities, which I didn't know or realize because I grew up in a town too small to have escort sections of the yellow pages But but there's always been that presence and it is always been sort of a like marginal like, who's this really hurting? We can't police this bully. Just let it go kind of thing

But I do think when people advertise on. Instagram or twitter or Facebook or whatever platform people are using big platform regulated platform You a really big difference between those platforms and what new Times and Backpage represented is just scale and size and power.

And these guys were of the correct size that they were. They built this big marketplace with a lot of people using millions [00:56:00] of people placing ads. but they were, they, they weren't a public company. They weren't a multi billion dollar company. They, they were a very good size to like shoot down, mount their heads on the wall and move along.

They didn't have to they didn't have to pick apart. Right. They didn't have to pick apart twitter, it is, like

SHEFFIELD: when they, and they also didn't have the political connections as well because, oh, and they're pissing

EIFLING: years was just pissing off. He just pissed off politicians. Absolutely the opposite. Right. And they would tell it and it's hard to this is the kind of thing. It's hard to hard to verify. And so it's hard for me to make the claim. In full. But if you talk to these guys, they would say, absolutely, there's a political motive.

They're all political enemies for years, which in the case of Lacey and Larkin, John McCain, Cindy McCain, his wife, were for years since the 80s very in the sights of their [00:57:00] publications, specifically in Phoenix, Phoenix New Times. And they say that a of this is politically motivated, retaliation for years of thwacking the hell out of them every time they got a chance, which the danger of being an impolite, impolitic, aggressive news organization.

If you start a giant hooker ad website, people might come and put a guy in a way to put you out of business and throw you, you, throw you in jail, right? Like this is, this is the story that we got into.

And it's, it is crazy to think about it in those terms, but. There is a version of of the world in which they were more let's say political or just say maybe even obsequious to power in which they are. They still get to run this website, but they were not. They were really confrontational in a way that I think very few news organizations have that same ethic of [00:58:00] just, Relentless relentless scrutiny of what they saw as powerful and their actions. Right? So I think all of that rolls up over, oh my gosh, 30 years, 40 years of, of, of, of pissing off everybody you can. That comes home to roost eventually. And and I think it does in the story that we've. That we told.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and it's interesting also that this is a bipartisan effort that happened to them as well.

And and you guys talk about that and that, but this is, this is another example of how I think that it's, it is very possible for people who strongly disagree with the Christian rights, authoritarian, morality system still be manipulated to do what they want. And that's kind of what happened with Kamala Harris when she was the, Like she was the one who kind of got this ball rolling. If you [00:59:00] want to talk about that.

EIFLING: Yeah, she was one. So there really I remember writing this section of the script because this all is in the recent past and I had to go through and it's what did happen? Once congress, congress, once it got to Congress, which is in 2017, once lacey and Larkin were hauled in front of Congress, they had hearings essentially around accusations that Backpage had facilitated a lot of pretty unsavory crimes some of them involving minors there were, I think it became very in sort of a preview I think, today of a lot of, political discourse that goes online talking about like groomers or, we talk about book bands. In 2017, it was child sex trafficking, right? And I think it's pretty clear now that a lot of the numbers You that advocates and politicians were using at the time to try to the size of that particular problem, which is a nightmare if [01:00:00] it's happening to people, we're way, way, way, way, way overblown, right?

It just was not anywhere near the scope and scale of what people thought might happening. Because there were some very terrible real cases that throw a shadow, throw a long shadow over everything else that's But once it got to, once it got to Congress it became a absolutely a bipartisan for Democrats, for Republicans.

I think Kamala Harris is a great example because she is a Democrat now that VP, but she's also a cop. She was, she was a cop in California. She was, I mean, I say this is sort of like loose terms, but she was, as the head law enforcement agent in California, she was the person who worked with Ken Paxton in Texas, who was a top cop in Texas, basically.

And they both said, linking arms, Kumbaya, Texas and California. These guys have got to go. We're arresting, we're, we're arresting these guys. And so, you Lacey and Larkin went to Sacramento. They were put in a cage. [01:01:00] And so they're in like orange jumpsuits in a cage. I think Lacey compares it to Cairo in the podcast when we interviewed him about And two weeks before her Senate election, right, she's got these big fish on the hook in a courtroom in, in California that that plays well. I think Democrats, look, I think Democrats Always I think back to the crime bill, Bill Clinton's, Bill Clinton's 1990s, right? Democrats love to, in some ways, overcorrect on law and order because they think it gives, it gives them a defense against republicans.

I think what ultimately happens, though, is republicans will call Democrats squishes no matter what happens. But Democrats, at least in my lifetime, have often pushed very hard and been real avatars for, like, strong crackdowns on, on things that are seen to have a marginal value, right? Or affecting, a case like this, which is, advertising for sexual [01:02:00] services.

There just aren't a lot of people who raise their hand and say, you know what? Like, I actually think we should have more freedom to run hooker ads like that. That constituency is, is probably pretty large, but also it's very quiet compared with how exciting it can be to bust people of ill repute for whatever it is.

And by the time it got to Congress in 2017, and they were debating the laws that eventually got passed, fOSTA, sESTA that would change the way that the Internet is regulated. And make it such that a website such as Backpage just won't ever exist again in the U. S.

And the way that that it was conceived. It was. Almost lockstep. It was almost perfect. Democrat Republican hand in hand voting to pass these laws that really changed the way the Internet can work. And It happened to be very ideologically conservative by historical standards, House and Senate, but they were not, they were absolutely not [01:03:00] passing many, many bills of that size with that that like mindedness, right? These are very, we live in very divided political times, and there was no division on this. Republicans, Democrats.

I'm sure there were, if I looked through Who voted against them, like there may be some really, truly committed social libertarians who, didn't think it was a good way to go, but mainstream man, they were, they were all about it for sure.

SHEFFIELD: It's also that it's. hard to have a, it's hard to have a concept of that freedom of speech has, it should protect things that might make you uneasy. In the same, but at the same point, like people were also like there's people haven't drawn the distinction, I think between the, advocating government is something that. That, that I guess, well, in other words, there are more limits that people want on that and [01:04:00] justifiably. So, then, if somebody wants to advertise their, their, their dominatrix website or whatever it is, like, that's not really hurting anybody. If someone wants to be paid to go on a

EIFLING: I think that's the thing that, that we really have to, as grownups look at and say I think, I think that is exactly where to start is like, look, man, who's it hurting? And look, there are definitely, there are definitely ways in which people pressure minors into sexual situations and that's gross. And if there's a hell people like that belong there, but most of the minors who get caught up in which I think would be called outside prostitution or street prostitution, mostly are, I was told by leading expert on this, in are people who are thrown out of their home often because they are gay, right.

There are just a lot of families in which a kid is in an abusive or, or bad situation. They have to leave home early. Maybe they're 15, [01:05:00] 16, I don't know, and, they're younger and they go and now they have to make money. And there people who take advantage of that and it's pretty bad times, right. But so big asterisk on that, right? I can dim Hamas. Like that's, that's that part of that conversation.

But, when it comes to people who want to have sexual experiences with somebody else, I think it is a a very natural, and if it's done in a civil way, probably mutually beneficial and for them and for the world for them come to an agreement and say look, I'm going to pay your time and I am looking to do this that either I've always wanted to try I can't do with my partner don't have a partner for it it's been a something I want to experience and look man, we're all dead for a long time. Like everybody should go have the consensual fun You want to have on this ride around on this rock, because we're not coming back. If you leave it on the table, that's where it's going to stay.

The personal story of a john named John

EIFLING: We talked with we talked with a [01:06:00] guy. So I have, I have friends who are sex workers. I to one of them and I said, Hey, I need to find a client. I need to find somebody who has paid for sexual services to be in the show.

And a friend of mine said, okay, I know a guy I'm going to she's a dominatrix. She said I'll put you in touch with this guy.

His name is John. I interviewed him. He appears in the podcast. Because he, he really didn't want people to recognize him.

And so we took the transcript of the conversation. We gave to an actor. Actor read, reads it. But the story John told me was, I thought pretty damn crazy because he had years earlier discovered via advertisement in the local paper in the city that he lived I think it was under a head right?

It something where it was like very weird language and went in and it was probably a place where you could buy bongs and stuff. and he wound up in this dungeon and he had, I guess what you'd call i, this is, I must admit, this is where my expertise sort of, sort of starts to falter But he had what he would [01:07:00] describe I think it's a pain session.

Probably he's restrained. Probably somebody's whipping him. There's a safe word is experiencing things that he hasn't experienced before. And what he discovers about himself through, over the years, many such sessions is that, um, he has these different kind of sexual tastes and sexual predilections and one thing that he discovered about himself is that only in these kinds of sessions where he has a safe word where there is a professional there who is, assume, just, you I don't know, whipping him or, or whatever's going on. He can tap out of that.

It's such a cathartic environment for him. He can't cry as an adult.

And I think there's a lot of men who would be like, if you ask them, when was the last time you cried to be like, I'm not, I couldn't tell you.

He said only in those kinds of sessions or when he can access the part of himself that feels safe emotionally to release these [01:08:00] big cathartic cries.

And during the course of reporting when I'm kind of, he and I are messaging each other and we're trying to find a time when we can talk, he says, at one point we were supposed to meet at one point. He says he says, hey my, my dad died. I have to cancel. so sorry. We'll reschedule.

When we talked again. He mentioned this about the crime. And he said, look as my, my dad just died. by then, it had been a couple of weeks, I think. And he said, I haven't cried about that yet, but I have a pain session and I'm looking forward to a really big cry.

Man, this is wild shit. This is a guy who I think if, not to not to cast, there are people, there are people in this country who would say that's despicable. You shouldn't be able to advertise for this stuff. There shouldn't be dungeons There should be a place where a man gets like, tied up and hit with a whip or whatever whatever's on in there.

And to them, I'd say like, yo, this is none of [01:09:00] your business, but man, this guy needs to cry about his dad And this is how he's going to access it. and he's to leave it in a much better mood.

And I think the world will be on balance a better place this is just the kind of stuff that I, I don't want to be in charge of regulating in other people's lives. I think that is like a such a personal experience between him whoever he's paying for their, their time.

And that's just one example. I mean, if you think about that, think about the complexity of what people access about themselves And can enjoy or decide they don't enjoy or whatever is happening through through sex.

It's, it's kind of kind of wild to think that you know better in every case than a guy who's making those choices for himself. Like, my perspective I'm pretty, speaking of I'm pretty, I'm pretty lousy fair about that sort of thing. [01:10:00] Right? Like Right. If that's your, if that's your jam, like, I want you to have access to it, I hope you tip well at the end of it.

I have friends who have really made livings for parts of their lives doing sex work, and I think that's, that is a mostly, actually weirdly healthy economy for people to engage in within boundaries, and And I, it would be so weird to me to take that away from him because I just, it could, because it weirds me out or gives me the icks. Like, that's not my business.

Like, that's not my, I'll do you, man. I'll do me. I'll do you.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, the other thing about this though, is, I think You know, people who again, like of this sort of squishy, moderate person who doesn't agree with the Christian right, but they kind of feel that, these people are icky they make me uncomfortable. What, and what they don't understand you ally with the Christian, right, not only are they going [01:11:00] to abolish the sex dungeon or the, the adult ads. They're also going to get rid of psychotherapy because they hate that also.

They want their one size fits all agenda for you also. And that's why they, they have to be put in a box and not let out because they, they will impose their viewpoint.

Look, because again, like, the rest of us, it doesn't affect us if somebody, wants to go to some pastor and say, you know, be Ned Flanders, and say I feel like I sinned because I saw a woman on a and I feel bad about it.

Like that's if that's your thing. Look, hey, it. But the rest of us will not be put in that box with you. Like you can go put yourself in there, but that's a kink. You need to understand. And these guys. Yeah,

and this is not an exaggeration because like in the state of, of Iowa, for instance, right now, the [01:12:00] radical Republican legislators there are trying to replace school counselors children with their psychological and emotional needs. They're trying, they're replacing them with completely untrained pastors. And this is a that they want and Republicans nationwide, they will do this if people let them like that. You might not like the sex ads or, the adult entertainment or whatever, but they're the frontier keeping you away from these people controlling your life.

Like that's the reality.

EIFLING: I think there is some of that. Yeah, that recognition needs to happen, which is, um, look, going to a dungeon, getting whipped, having a good cry. That's not, that's not my scene. But if I were to take the position that, that, gave, that made me feel a little, a little icky. And I, I don't mind if, if you crack down on that, right?

[01:13:00] Yeah. The line like that, that's, that slope. It is slippery. Like it go and it goes a long way. there are just certain matters that our best left to people who, people who are living those lives and, and have that experience.

I, I grew up in a religious part of the country and I in Northwest Arkansas and sort of, sort of developed a a bit of skepticism and hostility even at times to the Christian position on these things.

But it was. But it was at the time it was, it was very separate, right? There were churches in There were certainly religious organizations and institutions viewpoints on things, but we didn't have to pray in school. I didn't have to go. I didn't have to go. If I had a problem with school, talk to a right?

Like, no, thank you.

What does that guy? No, I I don't, I want to, that's not what that, that's not what that's there for. What is there for that is there's a church, there's a place you can go and do [01:14:00] And and I do think it is, yeah, I think it's, it's a, it's a responsibility of full adults to make good choices based not on how each one individually makes, makes us feel for ourselves, but to consider human experience and make sure that people's different needs and different inclinations can met safely and, and responsibly, right?

I mean, that's it seems really easy you it down to that, but then you think, oh, there just some other people who would really rather they in charge of your life than you.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. All right.


Well, so in terms of the two subjects of the podcast they had a mistrial in 2022, what's the status of their situation?

EIFLING: Well, not to spoil the podcast, but so we did, this was, this was a we worked on this show. Really for four [01:15:00] years, right? We, from the time we started, these guys were arrested in 2018. Big news at the time.

And it in 2020, kind of everybody's in lockdown and trying to come up with ideas of things to do. We got Trevor Aaronson, Michael Mooney and me got and said, We should do this. We should do this show, right? We should do this podcast.

We should do the full story of what's happening with Backpage at the time. Yes, there was this trial scheduled that kept getting pushed back and pushed back and pushed back and eventually happened in 2022.

We didn't yet have we didn't yet have a deal or no, sorry, 2021. We didn't yet have a deal to do the podcast and I was losing my mind. I was like, God, if only we'd been quicker, if this were easier, if we just had, if we all worked at vice or something, we could be doing this, but we, we didn't, we're all independent and this was things move slow,

but it was a very quick mistrial and it was a mistrial for reasons that I think are very consistent with a lot of the rest of the show. Essentially the government [01:16:00] was making repeated insinuations that there was a child sex trafficking angle or a sex trafficking angle to the case. The government brought against Lacey and Larkin.

In fact, there really wasn't like that wasn't those weren't the charges. It was a lot of what was discussed in public, but those weren't in the charges.

And so the judge, after only week or two of testimony, pulled the plug and basically said, Look, the jury's been tainted. This come up too much. It's a mistrial for us. That was great because we weren't making the show yet. So we finally, in 2022, we make our deal with audible.

And so, I think there's a, there, no matter where you are with him personally, and we talked to people who do not these guys, if you listen to the show, plenty of people in there who did not, who were not fans of Lacey and Larkin would is still a tragic ending for two people who, absolutely changed the course of American journalism, changed the course of American history.

And it is a, it's a [01:17:00] dark conclusion for for a business and so many of us led and have so many good memories out of and did amazing work from. But yeah, the, the two of them mean, look, we'll see.

Lacey's strong, and I don't know what kind of sense he's going to get there's a really good chance that when he comes out, he will still be as much, piss and vinegar as he always has been. And and I don't want to, I don't want to say that his, his chapter is yet finished, but but from what we cover in the show, it's, it's pointing to a hard landing for sure.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. All right. Well, this is it's been a great conversation, Sam. Um, So for people who want to check it out they should they can get on audible. right?

EIFLING: Yeah. to audible. You can the shortest way to get there is just audible. com slash hold fast one word it is a subscription service. Podcasting's wild but audible Audible keeps its, its originals close to the vest. So you do have to subscribe. I have been subscribing for a couple of years because I [01:18:00] wanted to get familiar with platform, but there are certainly, if you just like type in Audible, they're free trials. There's like 99 cents for three months. If you're a first timer, it connects to your Amazon account. It's pretty easy to get on there and listen to it.

If you want, you can do this one in a day if you are really so inclined, but yeah, I suggest checking it out if this is at all interesting. Because I think we made a hell of a show, frankly. I worked with some really talented people and we poured a gazillion hours into it. We had access that we would not have in any world had if we had not worked at the companies years and years ago and been welcomed into the homes of guys facing federal trial.

I think they thought we would give them a fair shake. And I think we did. And it's certainly, I think the response we've gotten from the show so far from people in the media has been really positive. So I feel very comfortable recommending it to just go for a ride.

I mean, [01:19:00] if I say it's a show about the alternative press, like I'm sure everybody would fall asleep, but it's about that and sex, power, drugs, guns, and just some crazy stories that if they had not appeared in print, you would not believe they happened. I'll put it that way.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, I think that is an accurate summation of it. So for people who want to follow you on social media, why don't you spell your last name for them?

EIFLING: Yeah, sure. Last name is Eifling. E I F L I N G. First name Sam. And I think I never really got more creative than just having a weird last name online. Pretty easy to find on that, all social handles. But, uh, yeah. Thank you for the opportunity. This has been a fun conversation.

SHEFFIELD: All right, so that is the program for today. I appreciate everybody joining us for the discussion. If you want to get more, you can go to theoryofchange.show where you can get the video, audio and transcript of all the episodes. And if you are a paid subscribing member, thank you very much for your support. [01:20:00] You have unlimited access to all of the content.

And you can also visit us over at flux.community. Theory of Change is part of the Flux media network. So go there and check us out. We got other podcasts and articles about politics, religion, media, and society and how they all intersect.

I appreciate everybody supporting us. Tell your friends, tell your family, hell tell people you don't like about Theory of Change and Flux. I really appreciate it. Thanks very much and I will see you next time.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.