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A Hole in Knight Ridder's Story

As expected, media conglomerate Knight Ridder (NYSE: KRI  ) reported disappointing results for the second quarter of 2005 this morning. The publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, Kansas City Star, and 29 other daily newspapers fell way short of Street revenue estimates and barely managed to exceed revised earnings targets.

That's because the company is in the same boat as its competitors: Circulation is down, costs are up, and even marginal gains in advertising can't make up the difference. During the latest quarter, Knight Ridder's circulation revenue was down 4.2% and total operating costs were up 2.1%, including a 9.7% jump in the per-ton cost of newsprint. Total advertising revenue, meanwhile, was higher by just less than 1%, led by a 1.6% gain from classified ads.

It's no secret that readers are relying more and more on the Web and television for news and a whole lot less on newspapers. But I don't know of a single Knight Ridder product that's inferior. When I lived in the San Francisco Bay area, I was a huge fan of the Merc, much more than I liked the crosstown rival San Francisco Chronicle, which is owned by privately held Hearst.

There are also signs that Knight Ridder's attempt to boost its standing in digital media is working. The popular CareerBuilder job site brought in $121.3 million during Q2, a 78% increase over last year. And the Knight Ridder Digital group grew overall online ad sales by more than 52% during the quarter.

Yet even with that good news, we can't know for sure whether Knight Ridder is a budding bargain. That's because the company published neither a balance sheet nor a cash flow statement. Talk about irony: A company built around reporting on others can't seem to get it right when it comes to reporting on itself. Sheesh.

Knight Ridder isn't unique in the industry for this practice, of course. Tribune (NYSE: TRB  ) and Gannett (NYSE: GCI  ) both did the same thing over the past 24 hours. Still, it stinks. And what's the point, anyway? Shouldn't Knight Ridder want investors to have all the data they need to jump on board if the stock is indeed undervalued? You'd think so.

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Reading between the lines is Tom Gardner's specialty. Get the latest news on small-cap bargains from Tom and our Foolish band of analysts by taking a risk-free trial toMotley Fool Hidden Gems.Your portfolio will thank you.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers thinks the cash flow statement is the most important of the bunch. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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