Gannett Co Inc has not been too generous lately with making its executives available to media reporters. And why would it? Few newspaper publishers have because there’s little good to say about the business.

Ad sales are tanking, as usual. Debt is looming (what else does it ever do?). Lots of self-styled media experts can’t let a day go by without writing a few blog posts telling publishers that they brought it on themselves and they deserve to die.

With that merry backdrop, I was surprised to get invited to a press conference and an interview with Gannett’s latest picks for editor (John Hillkirk) and publisher (Former Detroit Free Press Publisher David Hunke) of USA Today. Gannett brought them to New York to meet the insular Manhattan media world, which is responsible for writing all those obituaries that you’ve been reading about newspapers lately.

Here are some excerpts (paraphrased as well as verbatim) from our conversation on Wednesday afternoon at Gannett’s New York bureau at Madison Avenue and 54th Street:

Advertising revenue is down by some 30 percent versus last year. Publishers say much of this is because of the recession. How far down would ad revenue be without the financial crisis?