When you read an average of five earnings reports a day, you learn to really love the companies that make it easy on you by eliminating any slippery or confusing financial gymnastics in the report. Media company Gannett (NYSE:GCI) isn't one of those companies. While it's not really Gannett's fault (it's not trying to make things confusing), some asset swaps with Knight Ridder (NYSE:KRI) make year-over-year comparisons a little foggy.

It looks like times are still tough on both an advertising and circulation basis. While operating revenue rose more than 4%, as reported, it would have been down about 1% on a "same properties" basis. Unfortunately, costs aren't quite cooperating. Operating expenses in the quarter were up 8% as reported and up 1.4% on a pro forma basis.

Leaving aside the pro forma and "same properties" stuff, let's look at cash flow. Operating cash flow declined about 4% from the year-ago level. Nevertheless, the company continued its share repurchase program and bought about 3.6 million shares in the third quarter.

Advertising is still a tough market, and ad revenue this year suffers when compared with last year, when the company got a big boost from spending tied to the Olympics and political campaigns. In the newspaper group, though, things seem to be OK. Ad revenue there was up slightly on a pro forma basis, and newsprint costs have been partly controlled through reduced paper usage.

Looking at broadcasting, though, we see a different picture. This division's revenue was down more than 19%. It was really hurt by the lack of Olympics and political advertising (compared with the previous year). Whereas the company did manage a modest improvement in cash flow from newspaper operations, operating cash flow from the broadcasting division was down pretty sharply. Unfortunately, management's comments on the situation don't lead me to think that we're going to see a rapid reversal of fortunes here.

Media operations like newspapers and broadcast TV certainly have appealing cash flow characteristics, and no less an investor than Warren Buffett has made meaningful investments in them through Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRKa). That said, a good business isn't always a good stock, and the market hasn't looked too kindly on the likes of Gannett, Tribune (NYSE:TRB), Journal Communications (NYSE:JRN), or Hollinger (NYSE:HLR) this year. I do happen to like the first and last names that I mentioned, but it would take a lot of patience to buy into this sector today.

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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).