If you only know Google News from what it looked like a year or two ago, then you're thinking of a page crammed full of blue headline links. These days, Google News can do a lot more to help you keep on top of the news you watch for your career, along with the news of the world outside your monitor.
Google's web services, like their Google Apps platform, change all the time, and unless you follow the many, many official Google blogs, you can easily miss a thing or two (or five) that could really help you out.
Make news editors give you their best stuff
Google has long sought to strike a balance between its stock-in-trade algorithmic search efficiency and the desires of publishing entities to tell a story and capture a searchers' attention. The new Editors' Picks is a prime example. Tucked in the right-hand sidebar of Google News, these are just what they sound like: picks of interesting, relevant, and otherwise push-able stories that publishers are picking out themselves. You can flip between a handful of publishers at the moment, including the New York and Los Angeles Times, Market Watch, the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and others, and move a slider at the bottom of each publication to determine how often it shows up in your feed. That's a good introduction to your next step.
Cut back or bulk up on particular topics and categories
Hit the "Personalize" button in the upper-right corner. A new set of sliders and controls jumps underneath the button you just hit, and the first contains general sliders for broad topics: U.S. news, world news, business, health, and the like. If you use Google News for very specific purposes, or would like to, go ahead and cut back on the stuff you don't need.
But let's say you're very specifically tracking stories on a topic, like Standard & Poor's recent downgrade of the U.S. debt rating. In the box at the bottom of "Personalize Google News," start to type in a topic, and Google should provide auto-complete options. Choose the most fitting, and then move the slider to the right to see that topic frequently/always. You can, of course, use this to keep certain topics from showing up only "Rarely." And on the left-hand sidebar where news topics are listed, you can click your custom topic to see an entire page full of news on that subject.
Ban or promote individual news sources
Chances are you feel one way or another about Fox News, the New Yorker, and TechCrunch. Want to see more of them, or absolutely none of them? Google News provides general sliders in "Adjust Sources" for popular sources, along with the same kind of individual type-and-find sources. If you have local sources you'd like to come across more often, type them into the box, and chances are you'll find them - News is sporting over 50,000 sources at this point. Click "Add," then move the slider somewhere along the line from "Never" to "Often."
Let Google News find headlines near wherever you are
Google News can provide headlines for the area you're physically sitting in, but if you only type in your specific town to personalize it, you're missing out on a wider range of news awareness. The second box on the right-hand sidebar shows your local news stories. Click the "Edit" link to the right of the area name, then check the box for "Automatically determine my geographic area." Now News will provide a wider range of headlines based on its sourcing, and when you open a browser in another town, you'll see the news there, too, without having to open your hotel door.
Tweak how blog-y and PR-ish your news can get
By default, Google News allows straight press releases and independent blog posts into your news feeds, if they match your topics and interest areas, and more often if there's a dearth of other material. If you feel like you're getting a bit too much official filtering, or very unofficial punditry, you can change that mix in your settings. Yes, even Google News has settings, accessible from the gear icon in the upper-right corner (when you're logged into a Google account).
Move the radio buttons for press releases and blogs between "None" and "More" to tweak how often those sources show up. While you're here, consider changing up the Google News look with a one-column/two-column choice, and feel free to un-check the "Show Google News Badges" option if you're really not all that into bragging to online friends about how much news you consume in a browser.
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Turn off automatic personalization and become the ultimate editor
Did you know that Google News automatically adds some sections to your News front page, based on how often you've clicked on certain articles in the past? No? Well, they announced it, and it supposedly tests well with users and publishers. But if you want very specific control over what you see in your News page, you can scroll to the very bottom of your News page, and click "Standard U.S. Edition," rather than the default "Personalized U.S. Edition." Then again, you might find after a few weeks of browsing inside your own parameters that getting exactly what you wished for in Google News is a mixed sort of blessing.
Kevin Purdy is a freelance writer, a former editor at Lifehacker.com, and the author of The Complete Android Guide.