Morning Update is building audience of dedicated readers

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Sean Ireland
In the Disney movie, "The Lion King," the leader of the dominant pride of lions, Mufasa, receives a daily report on the status of his kingdom from his majordomo, a red hornbill bird named Zazu.

In this morning report, Zazu informs the king about the movements of a troublesome pack of hyenas, the local pride-land gossip from the cheetahs and elephants, and the various other day-to-day concerns that arise during the administration of an animal kingdom.

In Cullman, Ala., located about 50 miles north of Birmingham, readers of The Cullman Times – royalty or not – have their own version of the morning report, called The Cullman Times Morning Update. Each weekday morning, The Times posts a primer for the day to its website, www.cullmantimes.com, briefing readers on local traffic, the day's weather and local events, and short descriptions of the top expected news stories of the day. The report ends with The Associated Press's national listing of "10 Things to Know for Today."

"The Morning Update was started in April 2012 after our publisher (Bill Morgan) suggested the idea to the newsroom," said Times editor David Palmer. "During that time, news staff members were meeting to explore ideas to drive more traffic to the website and to further establish the Times as the top source for local news."

It has become one of the newspaper's key tools for accomplishing that goal. Each weekday, the Times' newsroom assistant, Sallee Chandler, arrives at 7 a.m. to load the update. She gets contributions from news staff members to add to the update, which typically includes local weather, traffic conditions, road work, best bets of events in the community and developing news stories.

Palmer, who oversees production of the Morning Update, said it is then posted online and linked each morning to Facebook and Twitter, which alerts a large number of Times readers that it has been loaded to the site.

"We know that Morning Update is a popular item for readers in the morning hours. We have a logo that is attached to the update each morning and it stays in the top spot on our site until 9 a.m.," said Palmer, who added that the newspaper's advertising representatives are now working on ways to capitalize on the popularity of the update.

The Times, owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., has a circulation of nearly 10,000, but the idea is easily transferrable to newspapers of virtually any size willing to put in the effort and time to build an audience of dedicated readers. It also has to have to the right information to connect with the needs of local readers.

"The most important point is to be consistent," Palmer said. "Assign a news staff member to be responsible for the update, but always have a backup in place. Some of the information can be prepared in the evening, reducing the amount of time needed in the morning to put together the report.

"For small newspapers, it's a great way to keep news flowing into the community through the website and social media."

Additional information: David Palmer, (256) 734-2131.

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