The e-mail disruption of the past few days — one of many ongoing little fiascos — has meant that I have to retrieve my personal and business mail from the iCloud website, rather than from the application that resides on my computer. Thus every time I need to check on the mail, I get Google News flashed in my face, because long, long ago in another time and in another space, I set that URL as Facebook’s and Safari’s home pages. Well…that has become a bit counterproductive. When your nerves are feeling frayed, the last thing you want to read about is the three-ring circus in the White House.
But there’s a much larger and more universal problem with Google News than that. As an information source, it doesn’t cut the mustard. Why? Because Google’s bots spy on you, peering over your shoulder at the stories you pick and noting how quickly you go to them. It then helpfully serves you content it thinks you’d like.
That’s very kind, o’course. But what it means is that you read news in a bubble. You don’t get a full picture of what’s going on or of what people who don’t think just like you are thinking — possibly rational thinking that would give you a fresh point of view on issues. You get what you are. It’s like looking into a mental mirror. That’s because Google News isn’t selling news to you. It’s selling you to advertisers. And so it fits Google’s purposes — to say nothing of its advertisers’ purposes — to turn you into a sheeple.
Being forced to go to your Web browser every time you want to check incoming mail brings that factoid sharply into focus — or at least it should. And having the Orange Ringmaster’s latest inanities and menaces shoved in my face every time I want to see my mail really is beyond the pale. I like getting the news, but I would like to get NEWS news, not whatever infotainment or disaster-mongering Google thinks I will find amusing. The obvious solution, then, is to reset your browser’s default “home” page to some legitimate news source. But…which one? The best, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, have paywalls — they’ll string you along by letting you see four or five stories, but after that they block you unless you subscribe. There’s always NPR, of course, but it subscribes to its own agenda, which is just about as tedious as the right-wing agenda.
However, there’s an alternative, and for the nonce it’s free: wire services. In particular, UPI and Reuters. Wire services earn their pay by selling news reports to newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, and magazines. They don’t have to charge online readers to stay in business, and they’re less agenda-driven than most news outlets. Quite a few of them, understandably, refrain from running a news feed: they’re selling to customers, and random Internet users are decidedly not their customers. This is true, for example, of the Associated Press (AP) and the Canadian Press. AP does have an interesting blog, but it’s mostly photos…entertaining time-killer but not especially informative.
So… I decided to make Reuters the home page for both Firefox and Safari. It’s a great deal less annoying than Google News, because it doesn’t shove the latest outrages from Washington right into your face. One of the cool things about the Reuters site is that you can choose the topics you’d like to read about:
Browse the subject links that appear in the banner (each of which has its own set of related sub-topics), and you get a much broader and more informative selection of news reports than you do with Google News.
I’m including links to Reuters and AP in the right-hand sidebar’s list of news sources. Check them out: they’re sure an improvement over Google!