The group, which publishes The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News, also said a strong rise in digital advertising sales has helped to slow the decline in its total revenues.
For the six months to 28 June, the Edinburgh-based firm reported an underlying operating profit of £28.3 million, up from £27.3m for the same period a year earlier.
Revenues fell to £135.8m, but chief executive Ashley Highfield said the year-on-year decline had slowed to 4.3 per cent, compared with 5.3 per cent during the first half of 2013.
He said a “real momentum” was building across the company, with print advertising sales down just 2.1 per cent in July, an improvement on the 5.1 per cent reduction seen in the previous six-month period. Digital advertising jumped 23.4 per cent to £14.1m, boosted by gains in the key categories of employment, property and motors.
Highfield said: “Johnston Press has delivered a solid first-half performance. The results reflect our ongoing progress against our strategic priorities as well as an improving economic climate, and demonstrate our continuing relevance to the communities we serve across print and digital.
“We are growing strongly in a number of categories and reducing the decline in the rest, whilst continuing to bring down our cost base. As a result, we are growing operating profits and margins.”
Net debts at Johnston Press fell to £181.6m, down from £302m at 28 December, helped by the recent refinancing that saw the firm raise £225m by selling bonds and £140m through a share placing and rights issue.
Highfield added: “We now have a third less debt with a markedly lower interest rate resulting in our annual interest payments reducing from over £36m to around £20m.
“This puts Johnston Press on a much more stable footing and allows us now to focus on returning to top line growth and a prosperous future.”