One of many of life's truths is that when there's bad news about a company -- or even not-so-good news -- it generally doesn't get announced in a press release. Sometimes it's there, but it probably won't be near the top. I got to thinking recently about the ways companies avoid discussing negative things or try to show them in a favorable light. And I decided to hunt for a few examples and put together a very unscientific survey.

I picked a few companies and looked up some of their recent press releases. I started with JetBlueAirways and clicked on the first quarterly earnings announcement I saw. Surprisingly, the company put its troubles front and center, leading with its rising losses. Near the top, it noted: "'We are disappointed to report our second consecutive quarterly loss,' said David Neeleman, JetBlue's Chairman and CEO. 'As we face what might be the 'new normal' for fuel prices, we have developed a comprehensive 'Return to Profitability' plan that includes right-sizing capacity, revenue enhancements, and cost reductions."

Next, I tried Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL), the premier online higher-education company, which operates the University of Phoenix, among other businesses. The company began with this: "Net income attributed to Apollo Education Group common stock for the three months ended February 28, 2006, was $80.6 million, or $0.46 per diluted share, compared to $87.1 million, or $0.47 per diluted share, reported for the same period last year." It didn't mention that this represented a 7.5% decline, but it did explain that much of the drop was tied to a separation agreement with its outgoing CEO. It then noted, "Total consolidated revenues for Apollo Group, Inc., for the six months ended February 28, 2006, rose 15.2% to $1.198 billion, compared with $1.041 billion in the same period last year," but again, it didn't mention that this growth was down from 27.4% last year and 34.4% the year before. This is an important trend that investors and potential investors need to be aware of. If you don't see a company offering this information -- and many companies won't volunteer it -- you should do a little hunting for it.

Then I was off to the Avon Products (NYSE:AVP) website's press release nook. In its latest earnings news release, the headline was "Avon Reports First-Quarter Earnings of $0.12 Per Share." That's close to meaningless, unless you happen to remember previous earnings-per-share numbers. The subhead was more revealing: "Total Revenue Up 6%; Results Include $120 Million in Implementation Costs for Continued Restructuring." OK, that tells us a lot more. Sales are up, but not in the double digits, which is where I'd prefer to see them for any company in which I'm invested. And it seems that a "continued restructuring" is under way. That can be good, if it works out. But scroll down through the release, and you'll find various red flags and some quite important details. It mentions that Avon's business in China, surely an area that investors have great hopes for, "saw revenue decline 27% (29% in local currency) and units decrease 18% in the first quarter as Avon's Beauty Boutique owners continued to place smaller orders with the company. . Global expenses, net of allocation to the operating segments, rose 93% largely [because of] $27 million in costs to implement restructuring initiatives."

Dell's (NASDAQ:DELL) recent earnings release was very bullish on the company's future, noting various strategies and initiatives, such as this: "Dell is accelerating plans to drive $3 billion of cost improvement in the year, including structural material, component and transformational costs, [and] improved warranty costs." I had to look at the income statement to see that the company's cost of goods sold had risen 8% in the quarter over year-ago levels, compared with revenue growth of just 6%. That's also where I noted that the year-ago revenue growth rate of 16% was more than twice this year's. Hmm.

Don't write them off
When you see a company struggling and you find red flags and areas of concern in its earnings reports and other communications, you shouldn't necessarily move on. Some of these companies are in the midst of a long slide to oblivion, it's true. But some others will prove to be smart buys as they get their acts together and remedy their problems.

Finding solid companies turning themselves around is one of the goals of our Motley Fool Inside Value newsletter, which is headed by Philip Durell. You can take advantage of a free trial of it to access all past issues and see for yourself, but in the meantime, permit me to point out that Philip singled out Intuit (NASDAQ:INTU) a little more than a year ago, and it's up nearly 50% since then. He has also voiced support for scandal-ridden financial giant Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM). Learn more about his approach in " How to Crush the Market."

Here are some Fool articles on some of the companies I've touched on:

Lessons learned
You can serve yourself best by reading company communications carefully and critically. A company may be 100% truthful in its press release, but it may still be avoiding shedding light on some problems. As you note the information that the company is providing, note also what it's not providing. Many companies, for example, don't provide all of the financial statements you'd want to see. Back in 2001, we lambasted Enron for not even providing balance sheets.

Read between the lines, as well as what's in the lines.

JetBlue is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection, and Dell does double duty as a Stock Advisor and Inside Value pick.

SelenaMaranjian's favorite discussion boards include Book Club, Eclectic Library, Television Banter, and Card & Board Games. She owns shares of Dell. For more about Selena, viewher bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written:The Motley Fool Money GuideandThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.