- Associated Press - Monday, January 31, 2011

MCLEAN, VA. (AP) - Gannett Co., the country’s biggest newspaper publisher, said Monday that its fourth-quarter earnings jumped 30 percent as costs fell primarily because of layoffs and as television stations got a one-time boost from political advertising.

The owner of USA Today and more than 80 other dailies earned $174 million, or 72 cents per share, in the quarter. That’s up from $134 million, or 56 cents per share, in the same quarter of 2009.

Stripping out one-time items, Gannett said earnings per share climbed to 83 cents from 70 cents. That’s two cents better than what analysts surveyed by FactSet expected.

Revenue was essentially flat at $1.46 billion, roughly in line with average forecast for $1.47 billion.

Gannett’s newspapers remain besieged by competition on the Web.

The fourth quarter capped four straight years of revenue declines at the company’s publishing division, which still accounts for more than two-thirds of Gannett’s total. Revenue from the print business fell 4.7 percent from the same quarter a year ago to $1.1 billion. Print adverting revenue fell 5.9 percent to $722 million. That’s an even worse decline than the 5.1 percent drop in the third quarter compared with the previous year; until this quarter, the declines have generally gotten smaller each period.

The jump in fourth-quarter earnings came from Gannett’s 23 TV stations.

Political campaigns spent a lot on commercial time during the November elections, lifting Gannett’s broadcast revenue 27 percent to $233 million. Excluding political ads, Gannett said broadcast revenue would have climbed a more modest 1.2 percent.

The company’s Web operations also continued to grow. Digital revenue climbed 5.2 percent to $166 million, but it still only accounted for about 11 percent of overall revenue.

Gannett’s expenses declined 4.2 percent to $1.15 billion from $1.2 billion. The company has been shrinking its work force and consolidating operations such as printing plants to reduce costs.

Shares of Gannett, which is based in McLean, fell 54 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $14.65 in morning trading Monday after the results were announced.

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