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I'd Still Rather Own Gannett Than Facebook

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Back in September, I went out on a limb in a column entitled I'd Rather Own Gannett Than Facebook. It was the type of piece that was a bit controversial at the time, because it suggested that the dinosaur was a better buy than the slick, newly public, must-own behemoth.

I don't mind being a contrarian, because that's part of what comes along with being a value investor. I also don't mind being wrong, because that comes with the territory, too. But in this case, so far anyway, the sentiments in that piece have demonstrated an important investment lesson.

In the eight months since that column ran, Gannett (GCI) has performed extremely well, with shares up about 52%, while Facebook (FB) is up about 19%. Granted, 19% in nothing to sneeze at, especially given that the S&P 500 is up about 12.5% during the same period. But Gannett has been the winner here, so far anyway, which may be ironic to many. GCI Chart GCI data by YCharts
Chances are, that you have more likely logged into Facebook in the past 24 hours than you have read a copy of USA Today, or any of the other Gannett-owned newspapers. Let's face it -- Facebook is still a somewhat shiny new object, used by millions. Some seemingly log every event of their day for all to see, quite annoying, I might add, and are practically addicted to it. That level of awareness and buzz is something that Gannett cannot claim. While Facebook has grabbed the headlines, Gannett has quietly gone about its business, successfully resurrecting a company that looked like it might go under just four years ago.

The investment lesson here is all about expectations. Little has been expected of Gannett, and the company has flown under the radar, paying down debt, raising its dividend, buying back shares, and delivering some very good results since 2009. What has long been seen as a newspaper company is much more, and the market may finally be figuring that out. Gannett's broadcasting segment generates much of the company's operating income, and last month's surprise bid for Belo (BLC) will expand that business dramatically.
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