As my Motley Fool colleague Seth Jayson observed a short time back, newspaper companies haven't exactly been the most popular stocks around. Due to sluggish revenue growth tied to equally sluggish ad spending and circulation growth, it's been tough to spark investor interest in the sector.

While Gannett's (NYSE:GCI) reported earnings for the first quarter weren't bad, they highlight the struggles going on across the industry. Operating revenue was up just under 4%, operating cash flow was up just under 3% and net income was actually down year-over-year. Only by virtue of the company's aggressive stock buyback program was it able to post 5% EPS growth.

Known mostly for USA Today, Gannett is actually a huge media conglomerate -- controlling more than 100 daily newspapers in 40 states, hundreds of non-daily publications, numerous British newspapers, and 21 television stations.

Results in the newspaper business were pretty tepid. Revenue grew about 4% on a similar rise in ad spending. While the company was able to hold the line on newsprint costs, growth was constrained by a mediocre ad market. Advertising spending from the auto industry was especially weak, and management expects this to continue for some time to come.

If newspapers were tepid, broadcasting was cold. Revenue was down 3% (5% if you strip out an acquisition) and operating cash flow from the segment fell nearly 14%. Not too surprisingly, results are suffering from difficult comparisons, since last year included revenues relating to political ad spending and the Olympics.

Unfortunately, those hoping that Gannett was going to sound the "all clear" probably came away disappointed. While management did highlight the strong results at the flagship USA Today newspaper and confirmed that ratings for the company's TV stations are pretty good, overall circulation growth and ad spending is still pretty anemic.

What's more, given that automobile advertising is normally such a big part of the overall pie, it looks like the ad market might stay a bit hamstrung until companies like General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F) can get their acts together -- and that's assuming no more hissy fits.

All that said, Gannett is worth some due diligence from value hounds. Though Gannett is among the largest printing and publishing companies around, it has sector-leading operating margins, yet trades at one of the lowest PEs in the group. Better still, the EV-to-FCF ratio seems pretty reasonable and the company has a good track record of dividend payments and share buybacks.

Although I wouldn't expect to see investors get too excited about newspapers unless and until ad spending rebounds, Gannett could be a name to watch if that, in fact, happens.

For more Foolishness on the Fourth Estate:

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