Ask your news questions; we’ll answer them

ASK AP LOGOOne of the new features in the Mobile News Network is the Ask AP content tab. Ask AP is a weekly question-and-answer column where the Associated Press answers readers’ questions about the news.

Each week, editors select three or four e-mailed questions, and journalists who are experts on the topic provide the answers. In addition to MNN, the Q & A appears online and in newspapers.

Readers can submit questions to newsquestions@ap.org. Since the feature launched in early 2008, the AP has received nearly a thousand questions. They have ranged from “Where do reporters go to stay safe during a hurricane?” to “What ever happened to Tiny Tim?” (You’ll have to read the column to find out).

When choosing to answer a question, editors consider whether the question would be of interest to the general public, its relevance to recent news developments, or if it would elicit an answer that offers interesting historical perspective on the news.

Please note, all submissions are read by AP editors, but we don’t answer questions we’ve answered before or use the column to respond to reader opinions.

Submit your own questions to newsquestions@ap.org and check out the latest installment: http://tinyurl.com/64j53a!

— Caroline Kim, Mobile Editor

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Mobile News Network for BlackBerry v2.5.3 launched (including Storm and J2ME support)

UPDATE (4/8/09): Version 2.5.3 is no longer available at http://bb.apnews.com. Please go to BlackBerry App World to download current versions of AP News.

We’re pleased to announce a new release of the Mobile News Network (v2.5.3) for the Blackberry. The new version is available for download from http://bb.apnews.com and we recommend that all users upgrade.

V2.5.3 offers a number of improvements and enhancements, specifically:

– Additional support: we’ve added Blackberry Storm and J2ME support.

– A more personalized experience: a dialog at first launch asks for email and zip code to automatically populate your setting with local news rather than news from a default location.  You can still add/delete zip codes as before.

– An easier way to share and manage content: “Send”, “Facebook”, and “Save Article” buttons are available at the top and bottom of each article.

– An improved user experience: we’ve removed the distracting “Update Progress” status bar at the top of the app and replaced with arrows in the corner.

We recommend that you delete your old version of MNN before installing 2.5.3 and then restart your device.

As always, we welcome and appreciate your feedback.

Michael Boord, Deputy Director, Mobile Operations

Why are there ads in my application?

The addition of an advertising component to the iPhone and other Mobile News Network applications has generated significant feedback from users – largely negative. At present, an ad-supported model is our best option to provide MNN apps free to the user. However, we recognize that ads can be frustrating and we’d like to explain why advertising is a necessary component, at least for now.

   
The AP is a member-owned, not-for-profit cooperative. The Mobile News Network is part of an initiative aimed at finding new digital outlets for news and information produced by AP members. It’s designed to offer users access to local and national news from trusted sources and it makes AP members competitive in the mobile news business.

Ads on the Mobile News Network allow us to supply you with the best possible comprehensive news application on the market.  We’ve gone to great lengths to make the user experience a positive one as we understand that a mobile device is very personal. We’re happy to see that user reviews and media coverage of the MNN have been overwhelmingly positive.

Developing mobile applications, especially native client applications, is a very costly proposition. They require not only start-up capital but ongoing investment in maintenance, upgrading operating systems, developing new features, building new releases and delivery platforms, etc. The MNN is not a one-time, self-contained, downloaded app, but a live application that ingests content from a central system on a real-time basis.  Multiply this by multiple carriers, device manufacturers and operating systems and you can start to understand the complexity and costs involved.  AP has a responsibility to operate the cooperative efficiently for its members and is not in a position to underwrite or fully subsidize these costs.  

Mobile screens vary in size but there is limited real-estate available for ads. We continually work to make ads on the MNN as unobtrusive as possible while ensuring they’re an effective vehicle for advertisers. We plan to monitor and make changes as necessary in future releases to maintain this balance. Currently the ads on the MNN disappear quickly and move to the end of the story you are on. We may explore other options in the future.

Some users have said they’d prefer a paid application as an alternative to the ad-supported model.  We have been exploring, and will continue to explore, this path and invite you to participate in a user poll so that we can better gauge the appetite for paid applications.

We encourage you to watch this blog for new information about the MNN applications, including information about how we’ll handle ads in upcoming releases. We sincerely appreciate your continued support of the Mobile News Network and look forward to your feedback in the future.

Michael Boord , Deputy Director, Mobile Operations

Send us your news via ‘Send Report’

The AP has a long history of devoting expertise and resources to capture the best photos. We’re asking you to be a part of that by sending us the news around you via the Send Report feature available on the downloaded version of the MNN for iPod Touch and iPhone.

A recent example of great citizen work came after the Minnesota bridge collapse. Because savvy citizens quickly uploaded photos to sites like Flickr and Facebook, and agreed to share their images with AP, we provided those images as part of our coverage.

With Send Report, you can send images directly to AP editors. The feature can be found at the bottom of any story. Hit the icon (bottom middle), fill in your information, attach your photo, write a description and send. It’s important to provide your contact info. We’ll need that if we decide to use your photo.

All photos submitted to the AP are vetted by editors, like Jim Collins in New York. Jim first determines if the photo is newsworthy. “We’re not just looking for pretty pictures,” he said. “We’re looking for pictures that capture a news event of a highly unusual situation from places where, for whatever reason, we haven’t been able to get our own staffer.” Then, a team of editors decide if the photo is legitimate and, if it is, the AP makes legal arrangements with the contributor to use the photo. Here’s AP’s policy on handling electronic images:

AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or manipulate the content of a photograph in any way. The content of a photograph must not be altered in PhotoShop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by PhotoShop or any other editing tool. Only retouching or the use of the cloning tool to eliminate dust and scratches are acceptable. Minor adjustments in PhotoShop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction (analogous to the burning and dodging often used in darkroom processing of images) and that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning.

If you find yourself in a breaking news situation, try to find the best angle for a photo. Brian Horton, a longtime AP photographer, says the difference between a great picture and a good one can be an instant. “When you make pictures, think about pictures you have seen in the past and what made the good ones stand out in your mind,” Brian said. A person in the picture gives the reader a point of reference on scale, Brian said. Getting up on a ladder or down on one knee gives the reader a different perspective on how the person fits in to the scene. Good composition is the key.

— Arian Celeste Smedley, Mobile Editor

Rescue workers care for the injured near the remains of the Interstate 35W bridge after it collapsed during the evening rush hour Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Tim Davis)

Rescue workers care for the injured near the remains of the Interstate 35W bridge after it collapsed during the evening rush hour Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Tim Davis)

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