Newspaper stocks took a drubbing today. Despite the improving economy and the uptick in advertising, some newspapers' earnings still show sluggish times. Knight Ridder (NYSE:KRI) and Tribune (NYSE:TRB) both reported quarterly earnings today, with the latter company disappointing investors.

Knight Ridder earned $55.9 million, or $0.70 per share, 10% higher than the $50.6 million, or $0.62 per share, it earned in the same quarter a year ago. Revenues increased 2% to $712.3 million. Advertising revenues helped the gain, bringing to fruition the glimmers of hope from last quarter. However, Knight Ridder did warn of a spotty outlook for newspapers across the U.S.

On the other hand, Tribune was the culprit in bringing newspapers down a notch today when it reported earnings that missed expectations. Tribune reported earnings of $118.6 million, or $0.35 per share, as compared to $134.9 million, or $0.41 per share last year. Revenues were up 3% to $1.3 billion.

The rather depressing earnings on Tribune's part contained a onetime loss related to investments. The silver lining to the cloud? Advertising revenues did show improvement.

For Tribune, it's a far cry from its stellar earnings reported earlier this year. At the same time, Knight Ridder pointed to hints of an improving advertising market at that time.

Going forward, indications show a sketchy outlook for advertising, one of the main drivers of newspaper revenues. It's an interesting comparison to the rockin' ad revenues from Internet bellwether Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) recently.

More in this mixed bag of tricks? Gannett (NYSE:GCI) reported improving fortunes earlier this week, while Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones (NYSE:DJ) reported a steep drop in net income, despite improved sales.

Though it's obvious that the outlook for newspapers is improving, it's understandably disappointing when many other industries are benefiting from the improved economy now. With an eye to the future, the mixed messages coming from newspaper-focused media companies give good reason to pause before picking winners.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. Her news all arrives via a broadband connection; she's long been done with messy newsprint.