Lee Enterprises Sees Improving Revenue Picture, With First Single-Digit Decline Since ’08

By: E&P Staff

Total revenue for Lee Enterprises fell just 9.2% in January compared with a year ago — the first single-digit percentage decline since 2008, the community newspaper publisher’s CFO will tell shareholders at its annual meeting Wednesday.

January was the fifth consecutive month in which the year-over-year revenue comparison moderated, Lee said.

In remarks prepared for the annual meeting, CFO and Treasurer Carl Schmidt said the improvement appears to be continuing into February and March.

Total advertising revenue in January declined 10.5% compared with a year ago, Schmidt said. Combined print and online retail advertising was down 10.5%.

Classified continued to fall precipitously, Schmidt’s prepared remarks indicated. Total classified was down 12.1%. Inside classified, the employment category fell 25.1%, auto was down 11.7%, and real estate slid 19.2%.

Online advertising revenue was up 5.7%, Lee said.

For the quarter ended Dec. 27, 2009, advertising revenue declined 16.4%, and total revenue was off 13.8 percent.

Schmidt said Lee reduced its debt in 2009 by $198 million, of which $78 million was from cash generated by operations, with the remainder coming from utilization of $120 million of previously restricted funds.

“We are operating well within the commitments we made to our lenders when we completed a comprehensive refinancing of our debt a year ago, and we expect to continue repaying debt primarily with our ongoing cash flow,” he said.

In remarks prepared for the annual meeting, Chairman and CEO Mary Junck said new market studies show that Lee’s newspapers and online sites continue to reach up to three-fourths of adults over a week, including 59% of people 18-29.

“In a time of rapidly evolving digital interactivity, our newspapers and online sites remain in front, by far, surpassing all print, broadcast and online competitors as the primary source for local news, information and advertising in our communities,” she said, adding: “Without us, most local news would never come to light.”

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