Updated March 29 at 12:28am

ProJo advertising down by half since ’06

Paper trims losses by getting more from circulation, website


PROVIDENCE – The Providence Journal has lost nearly half its print advertising revenue over the last three years as the drastic decline in print media’s fortunes hammered the newspaper.

The Journal’s advertising revenue fell to $71 million in 2009, down 48 percent since 2006, when the company sold $135 million worth of newspaper ads, according to A. H. Belo Corp., its Dallas-based parent company.

The Journal’s total operating revenue did not decline as severely over the period. It dropped 35 percent to $105.6 million as the paper raised newsstand and home delivery prices and sold more advertising on its website.

Advertising made up 67 percent of The Journal’s total revenue last year, down from 83 percent in 2006. Circulation’s share of revenue nearly doubled, to 31 percent from 16 percent in 2006.

The figures were included in the annual report A. H. Belo filed last week with the Securities & Exchange Commission. The company posted net income of $5.65 million, or 27 cents a share, in the three months ended Dec. 31, its first quarterly profit since its spinoff from Belo Corp. in 2008. (Belo bought The Journal in 1997.)

For the full year, A. H. Belo lost $108 million, or $5.25 a share, on $518 million in revenue. Earnings were held down by one-time charges such as a goodwill impairment and writing off an old content management system.

In other signs of stabilization at A. H. Belo, the company said net cash provided by operations rose to $30.3 million last year from $28.9 million in 2008, and the company finished 2009 with $46.3 million in working capital, up from just $4.2 million at the end of 2008.

Investors cheered the news. The company’s stock closed at $8.37 per share on Friday, up from $7.61 a week earlier. The stock hit a low of 94 cents a share when it bottomed on July 6, 2009.

The 35 percent drop in The Journal’s operating revenue was far from the worst among A. H. Belo’s three papers. The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif., has seen its total revenue shrink by half over the last three years, and total revenue fell 33 percent at The Dallas Morning News, A. H. Belo’s largest publication.

At The Journal, circulation revenue rose to $33 million last year, up 19 percent since 2006. That occurred despite total circulation falling by 47,478 copies to 112,310 on weekdays and by 58,671 copies to 154,300 on Sundays.

The Journal has taken a number of steps to shore up its finances in recent years. The paper ordered four rounds of staff reductions in 2008 and 2009, reducing its work force by about 150 to 562 full- and part-time positions as of last March. About 320 of those workers are represented by the Providence Newspaper Guild.

The Journal also sold Rhode Island Monthly magazine and redesigned the print edition last summer following a reorganization of the news desks. “We are here. Very much alive,” Thomas E. Heslin, the paper’s executive editor, stressed in a column published last spring.

In addition, The Journal has been trying to sell or lease its five-story, 194,915-square-foot headquarters on Fountain Street for more than a year. The paper recently offered to sell the facility to the city government, which is seeking new administrative offices, for $9.75 million or to lease it for $1.17 million a year.

A. H. Belo is also preparing to roll out a new system that will require Projo.com readers to pay for some of its local stories by subscribing to either an electronic edition or the print edition. Articles on Projo.com have been available for free since the site debuted in October 1996.

Additional information is available at ahbelo.com.


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