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Publishers say newspaper ad trends improving

NEW YORK — The country’s biggest newspaper publishers say advertising revenue continued to improve in the fourth quarter — even if they are still not ready to predict when or if traditional print revenue will start growing again.

Gannett Co., publisher of USA Today and other dailies, and McClatchy Co., which owns The Sacramento Bee and The Miami Herald, said Wednesday that smaller print declines and cost cutting will help results in the last three months of 2010.

Newspapers are struggling to arrest a nearly four-year slide in ad revenue as more advertisers turn to online destinations like Google and Facebook. Print circulation is dropping as well as readers turn to the Web for news.

With the recession behind them, publishers are reporting smaller declines in print revenue. But they haven’t seen the kind of rebound that would make up for steep declines last year.

Gannett’s TV stations have benefited as auto makers and other advertisers ramp up commercial spending coming out of the recession. Political campaigns also spent big money on TV time during the midterm elections. And the company’s newspapers have seen print advertising declines ease.

Gannett Chief Operating Officer Gracia Martore said the company is “comfortable” that its fourth-quarter profit will be at the high end of expectations.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters estimate earnings for the final three months of the year at between 72 cents and 80 cents per share.

Gannett shares rose 78 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $16.10 in morning trading Wednesday.

McClatchy, which does not own broadcast stations, said ad revenue in the first two months of the quarter slipped 5.8 percent compared with the same two months of last year. That’s an improvement over the previous quarter, when McClatchy’s ad revenue was down 6.4 percent from the previous year.

Though McClatchy did not provide a specific earnings or revenue forecast for the full quarter, advertising trends from the first couple of months were enough to push the company’s stock up 30 cents, or 8.5 percent, to $3.85 in morning trading.

The latest updates from Gannett and McClatchy were roughly in line with new figures from The New York Times Co.

The owner of the Boston Globe, the International Herald-Tribune and a group of smaller dailies along with its namesake newspaper said Tuesday that a drop in expenses should boost its fourth-quarter profit. Like its fellow publishers, the Times Co. expects print advertising revenue will show a smaller decline than the previous quarter.