I suppose the New York Times' (NYSE:NYT) earnings announcement last week could be labeled a classic case of good news/bad news. After all, once you get past a massive charge -- largely related to the difficult environment and the plummeting value of the company's Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspapers -- the reported results for this Motley Fool Income Investor pick did represent an improvement over the same quarter last year.

But an $844 million charge (pre-tax) is still about as easy to ignore as the tasteless jokes of that drunk guy at the party. Fully $735 million (after tax) of the charge involved a write-down of the Globe and the Telegram & Gazette, with the rest relating to staff reduction costs and an accelerated depreciation expense for a portion of the assets of the company's Edison, N.J. printing plant, which is being closed. It's a noteworthy commentary on the sliding value of daily newspapers that the write-down of the two Massachusetts papers represented more than half the total purchase price for the Globe ($1.1 billion in 1993) and the Telegram & Gazette ($296 million in 2000).

With the charges, the company's net loss for the quarter amounted to $648 million, or $4.50 a share, but without the write-down charge, the company earned $87.9 million, or $0.61 a share, compared to a profit of $63.1 million, or $0.43 a share a year earlier. Revenues for the quarter were up 4.3% to $931.5 million, largely because the quarter contained one more week than its predecessor.

Along with the company's earnings, it seems to me that there is much to be gleaned about Times' health from the company's December advertising revenues, which also were released last week. For the month, which also included an extra week, the company's revenues from continuing operations increased 14.7%. However, a removal of the contribution from the extra week yields a 2.5% reduction in advertising revenues for December.

Times' New England operations continue to be especially hard hit, with an economy that is growing more slowly than other parts of the country and the consolidation of large advertisers, including Federated Department Store's purchase of Filene's. The New England properties are responding by cutting staff -- 125 jobs are being eliminated in Boston and Worcester -- and the Globe is closing its remaining overseas bureaus. Excluding the additional week, Times' New England group experienced a 12.2% reduction in advertising revenues for December.

Times' results compare to generally improved performances at Dow Jones (NYSE:DJ), Gannett (NYSE:GCI), and Media General (NYSE:MEG). Further, in looking specifically at Times, it seems that some analysts are willing to eliminate the write-down and judge the company to be a newly attractive investment possibility.

Is that an appropriate stance for Fools to adopt? For my money, I'd rather take a figurative 30,000-foot perspective on the company. From that height, the ongoing staff cuts, declining advertising revenues, and overall newspaper malaise remain glaring. Until those things change, I'd rather keep my powder dry on New York Times.

For related Foolishness:

New York Times is a selection of the Motley Fool Income Investor newsletter. To see all the reasons why, take a free 30-day trial today.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your questions or comments.