In year-over-year terms, total revenues declined 19.7% in the first quarter, 20.5% in the second quarter and 20% in the third quarter, for a total decline of 20% in the first nine months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008.
For the full year, Lee's total operating revenues declined 18.2% to $842 million.
This moderation in the rate of decline holds out hope the worst of the print advertising downturn is past for Lee and the newspaper industry in general, with prospects for stabilization of newspaper revenues in 2010.
Recent forecasts from industry analysts have been guardedly optimistic. Earlier this month, Wells Fargo analyst John Janedis upgraded his stock outlooks for The New York Times Co. and Gannett, pointing to a partial rebound in ad revenues in their fourth quarter results. (Neither company has released an official summary.)
At Lee, the fourth-quarter revenue drop resembled previous quarterly declines in its scope, if not its depth, with most major ad categories affected: retail advertising revenue fell 15%, national 16.1%, and classifieds 19.7%.
Losses in the last category reflected ongoing weakness in the broader economy, with employment advertising plunging 41.6%, automotive down 19.6% and real estate down 21%.
Lee saw online ads decline again in the fourth quarter, but noted that the revenue trend turned positive in December, partially offsetting losses in October and November. Circulation revenue declined 5.1% compared to the fourth quarter of 2008.