Creating a Menu for my News Diet: Customizing My Google News Feed

My quest to eat more apples and less Doritos continues...

Last month after visiting the Newseum in Washington D.C.  I realized I wasn't very discriminating about my news sources.  I was allowing myself to be inundated with whatever the news agencies wanted to tell me.  So I set out to make some changes.

To learn more about my revelations after visiting the Newseum, click here.  

Turns out I got some help, because I got really sick and didn't do much except watch Hallmark Christmas Movies.

To find out what lessons I learned watching Hallmark Christmas movies, click here.  

Cutting myself off from almost all news was an interesting experience.  It didn't take long for me to realize that in the world of news there is actually very little that I NEED to know.  Yet, we somehow are made to feel like it is our obligation to know.

Let me give you a quick example:

In December, Alabama had a special election for a vacant seat in the Senate.  As most of you know, it got lots of national attention because of the Republican candidate.  But unless you live in Alabama and can vote, how important is it really that you know every detail about the lives of the two candidates?  The winner won't be your representative.  But the news made us feel like every American had a voice in this election.

The reality is, all that needed to be was a quick headline and little blurb the day after the election.  "Doug Jones Wins Alabama Senate Special Election: First Democrat to Win in over 25 Years"  But instead it consumed our news feed and out late night television hosts' monologues.

After the Alabama Senate Special Election, I started to look at news stories with the following questions:

1. Do I NEED to know this information?
2. How will this information change my life?
3. How will this information affect my mental health?

After filling my days with stories about Christmas wishes, magical small towns, and people almost kissing, I noticed that I wasn't as anxious or upset about the world.  All these news stories was affecting how I viewed the world and humanity.

A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon the settings of my Google News page.  I didn't know you could customize it to the extent that you can.  At first I felt guilty about making changes.  After all, shouldn't I want to be open minded and willing to receive all news?  But then I thought about the past few weeks and how much happier I was not getting force fed Doritos.

So I made some changes to my news feed.  To change the settings on your Google News feed, click on the gear in the upper right hand corner.  I have it highlighted in yellow.

After clicking on the gear, I clicked on Heading Sections.  Under "Manage Sections" you'll see Add new section, Active, and Hidden.  I first went to the Active section.

To remove a section, just click on "Hide"

You can scroll throw all the sections and decide what you want to hide.  I ended up hiding all of them except for World, U.S. and Business.  The hardest one for me to hide was Entertainment.  I have this morbid fascination with find out which celebrities have died each day.  This of course sucks me into celebrity gossip which isn't healthy for anyone, including the celebrities.

Getting rid of the Entertainment section was like throwing out all the chocolate in my pantry.  

Next, I decided to create some new sections for myself.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I love family history.  I love reading the latest news about genealogy.  Google lets you add any search terms you want, and it will automatically look for any news articles with those terms.  You can also name your section whatever you want. 

After hiding the topics I don't want and adding sections that I do want to read, I can then determine what local news I'm interested in. 

Google will automatically find your location and give you news for where you are, but you can also pick different locations around the world if you want. 

These are the locations I picked. 

After selecting the locations, I can select "Your Interests" and it will show the suggested interests that Google thinks I would be interested.  You can also add interests of your own.  If you don't like the suggestions Google offers, you can give them a thumbs down. 

The last place you can customize your Google News is under "Sources."  This is where you can let Google know which sources you prefer, and which sources you don't your news from.  At first my concern was that I was going to be pulling myself into an echo chamber, only allowing the voices that I like to hear.  But I have given this quite a bit of thought and have decided that I should be able to go to the sources I trust, and ignore the ones that I don't.  This doesn't mean that I think their news is "fake" but rather I just think they tend go for the sensational and unnecessary.  After lots of research, I decided that Reuters and AP are my most trusted sources.  I also included BBC News and Washington Post.  Over the past couple of years, I have appreciated the writing style of the Post and enjoy their articles.  But I recognize that they are biased and shouldn't be my sole source of news. 

And now my Google News Feed is customized.  I see this as my menu or list of foods that I can eat each day.  Not all of it is healthy (did you notice my interest in Dancing with the Stars?), but hopefully it has enough good information in there so that I have an overall well-balanced news diet.  And just like with a real diet, I don't have to eat all the foods everyday.  I can pick and choose what I want.  I just need to be careful that all my news isn't about a particular ABC reality dancing competition!