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CLASS KICKING BACK IN? NATIONAL BACK FROM DEAD? Early January reports at JRC, Lee, SSP give glimmer of hope.

Classified advertising -- the bane of of newspaper executives for the last three years -- seems to be coming back. This week's reports on the January results show that class had a little bump at Journal Register, a mid-sized bump at Lee Enterprises and a nice bump at Scripps. By the numbers:

*Journal Register Co.: Nice little increases in local and classified revenue were supplemented by a big -- percentage-wise anyway -- boost in national ad revenue last month at this Trenton, N.J.-based newspaper publisher.

When comparing January 2003 to January 2004, total ad revenue was up 2.4 percent, to $24.8 million. Classified was up 1.3 percent, to $10.4 million, while local was up 2.9 percent, to $12.9 million.

But it was national -- which went up 6.4 percent, to $1.4 million -- that was the shining star.

The company said its Times Herald in Norristown, Pa., showed a 10-percent gain in ad revenue, while its New Haven (Conn.) Register saw total ad revenue go up 6.1 percent, and its Reporter, in Lansdale, Pa., was up 5.2 percent, year-over-year.

JRC said that classified revenue was strong in real estate, up 8.2 percent over last year on a "same-store" basis, while its classified employment was up 3.7 percent. Classified automotive was down 11.4 percent, which the company attributed to "severe winter weather, particularly in the Northeast."

*Lee Enterprises Inc.: National advertisers were good to Lee as well, boosting both its national ad revenue and its national ad volume by substantial amounts.

The Davenport, Iowa, company saw an overall ad revenue increase of 4.4-percent, it said, to $35.3 million, when comparing January 2003 to January 2004. Volume was up 2.5 percent, to 1.6 million inches.

National revenue was up 13.5 percent (to $1.5 million), while national volume was up 28.6 percent (to 45,000 inches). Classified revenue was up 5.1 percent, to $13.2 million, while classified volume was up 4.3 percent, to 825,000 inches. Both retail revenue and volume were essentially flat, at $18.4 million and 708,000 inches, respectively.

Lee said that it saw gains all across the classified board, with real estate revenue up 9.1 percent (to $2.6 million), employment revenue up 4.3 percent (to $3.1 million), automotive up four percent (to $3.1 million) and the ever-popular "all other" gaining 10 percent, to $2.2 million.

The company pointed out that the 2004 period had one more Saturday and one fewer Wednesday than the 2003 period.

Mary Junck, chairman and chief executive, said "Overall, we stack up well against our standout month a year ago, which was one of our best in 2003."

*The E.W. Scripps Co.: Classified ad revenue was the outstanding portion of the publishing division's story at the Cincinnati-based multimedia company, but even a solid jump there couldn't knock the company's star division -- cable TV networks -- out of its growth leadership.

With operating revenue up 32.7 percent -- $47.7 million -- when comparing January 2003 to January 2004, the home of Emeril Legasse and "Design on a Dime" outstripped all the other of the company's endeavors by a wide margin.

The big lift from cable put Scripps ahead by 10 percent for the month, to $162.1 million. Broadcast TV was down 6.9 percent, to $23.4 million, while the Shop At Home division was up 15.2 percent, to $26.1 million and the licensing and other media group was off 4.3 percent, to $9.6 million.

Overall newspaper revenue was up 3.1 percent, to $55.3 million, with ad revenue up 4.1 percent, to $42.6 million.

Classified led the way with a seven-percent jump, to $17.3 million, while national ad revenue was up 4.7 percent, to $3 million. Pre-prints and other ad revenue accounted for a 3.3-percent raise, to $8.9 million. Bringing up the rear was local ad revenue, which was up just 1.1 percent, to $13.4 million.

Of course we aren't yet even half-way in monthly reports, but nonetheless, this looks encouraging. These three companies focus on smaller papers in the heartland and maybe the results are the harbinger of better things to come. And let's just go out and thank people for taking out classified ads again.
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Publication:NewsInc
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 16, 2004
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