Revenue continues to decline at ProJo parent

A.H. Belo, the Dallas-based parent company of the Providence Journal and Dallas Morning News, is reporting a net loss of 18 cents per share in the first quarter of 2012 compared to a net loss of 31 cents per share in the first quarter of 2011.

The declining losses are due, in no small part, to cost cutting: as of March 31, 2012, A.H. Belo had approximately 2000 full-time employees, down some 14 percent from a year ago. Nine Providence Journal employees took buyouts in December 2011.

Total advertising revenue, including print and digital, was down 12 percent from the first quarter of last year. The Providence Journal took the smallest hit of the company's three major papers - the Journal, the Morning News, and the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California.

But those numbers are a bit distorted. The Super Bowl took place in Dallas in the first quarter of 2011, giving the Morning News an artificial advertising boost that makes the drop, there, look worse than it might. Take out the Super Bowl bump, and the Morning News took the smallest hit, with the ProJo moving to the middle of the pack.

Digital advertising, in particular, took an 11 percent hit - dropping to $7.8 million. But if the impact of the Super Bowl dollars and the discontinuation of a certain revenue allocation to digital are removed, the number stayed flat. That's arguably encouraging news, given the advent of pay walls at the Morning News and ProJo. But take it with a grain of salt: the Morning News' pay wall went up during the first quarter of 2011 and the ProJo's pay wall went up about two-thirds of the way through the first quarter of 2012. We may not get a clearer view for some time.

Moreover, digital advertising is a growth area at many newspapers.

Overall, first quarter revenue for A.H. Belo was down seven percent to $104.8 million compared to the same quarter last year - a figure that drops to five percent if the Super Bowl dollars are taken out of the equation.

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