Value is a cruel mistress -- she'll keep you waiting on pins and needles for your reward and will sometimes drive you crazy with the wait. But when value pays off, the rewards can be considerable. With that in mind, it's time to tackle an oft-discussed area of interest among value investors today -- newspapers, specifically Gannett (NYSE:GCI).

It's still not what you'd call good times for this large operator of local, regional, and national newspapers and periodicals. Pro forma revenue (treating the Detroit ops as if they'd been included in both periods) was up 0.5%, while pro forma operating expenses were up 1%. As you know, it's bad when operating expenses grow faster than revenue, and the company saw reported operating income fall a bit over 2% this quarter.

Now, to be fair, it's not like any newspaper operator is blowing the doors down with growth -- not New York Times (NYSE:NYT), and not Tribune (NYSE:TRB). And there were some details that I found to be positive, at least on a small scale. Local ad revenues were up nearly 3%, and USA Today ad revenue growth was also above average.

The question, of course, is whether these big media operators can put together the sustainable cash flow growth to produce real long-term returns for value investors. Skeptics say "no" (but then, that's what skeptics do) -- pointing toward the Internet as an unbeatable killer in terms of providing news content and siphoning away precious ad dollars.

My take on it is slightly different. We're absolutely in a period of transition where new rules are being written. But the thing is, people have shown time and time again that they're willing to pay for news -- whether actively (in the form of subscriptions) or passively (in the form of being subjected to advertising). What's more, there's a local content element that shouldn't be ignored -- Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ESPN aren't going to be covering local politics and sports in Grand Island, Neb., anytime soon.

We saw a shake-out in the early days of the Internet when many concepts were tried and most failed -- leaving the likes of (NASDAQ:AMZN), Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM), and such to carry on. I do believe there is a sustainable, profitable model for newspapers out there, but I also realize that you're going to need a lot of patience to see the rewards in your portfolio.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).