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Torstar Corp President and Chief Executive Officer David Holland looks on at the annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, May 5, 2010.

MARK BLINCH/Reuters

Gains in digital advertising weren't enough to cover the ground lost in print, Torstar Corp. said Wednesday as it reported traditional print advertising revenue slipped 6 per cent last year.

The company said ad spending was weak to end the year, and only started to pick up again in February, adding the outlook remained uncertain for print advertising due to "economic uncertainty and shifts in spending by advertisers."

"We need a sustained period of positivity [in the print advertising market]" said chief financial officer Lorenzo DeMarchi during the company's conference call. "It's still fragile and uncertain."

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The company - which publishes the Toronto Star and also owns other community and daily newspapers, a host of websites and romance publisher Harlequin - said its fourth-quarter profit rose to $64.3-million or 81 cents in the fourth quarter, from $36-million or 45 cents a year ago.

On an adjusted basis, it earned 70 cents a share, topping expectations of 55 cents.

Revenue, however, didn't beat analysts' targets. It rose 2 per cent to $425.3-million, below expectations of $440.3-million.

Chief executive officer David Holland said that while it was a difficult year for the company, which laid off about 150 employees in its media division for an anticipated cost savings of $9.4-million - he felt it was a "solid performance."

"We felt it was a solid performance considering the $6.4-million in negative earnings impact from the strong Canadian dollar, the economic environment and the increased level of investment in the media business, particularly digital," Mr. Holland said.

The company posted an operating profit of $209-million in 2011, down from $218.8-million in 2010. The company also improved its debt position, carrying $153.3-million at the end of the year compared to $368-million at the end of 2010.

Mr. Holland said the company would continue to seek opportunities to expand into new markets through acquisitions, citing a recent deal that saw the publishing company take a 25-per-cent stake in Blue Ant Media Inc., a privately held television broadcaster.

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"We believe it's important within Torstar to continue to seek out opportunities to diversify the asset base, and we're prepared to do that," he said. "We thought with Blue Ant it was a unique opportunity to invest into areas we'd be unlikely to pursue on our own ... we want to take positions that will provide options for us in a future that is difficult to predict."

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