Improve the quality of news with a flowchart: this automatic “article follow-up” system will keep you informed of more than just the most sensational eye-catching news!


In the pre-Internet era, news was physically printed out on sheets of so-called “news” paper, which were published chronologically. As a result of these limitations, it was not possible to inform a reader of (say) July 1, 1910’s article about the merits of radium water that there would be a crucial retraction published on April 8, 1911.

The Issue:

These printing-press-based technical limitations are no longer present, but it’s still the case that news articles are rarely connected to relevant preceding / subsequent articles about the same topic.

For example, the article “Swamp Monster Sighted In Highway Median!” might be front-page news, while a later retraction (“Swamp Creature Was Actually a Parade Balloon”) is less interesting, and thus less likely to get any media attention.

Plus, the monster sighting article is still going to be floating around online competing for attention with the debunking article, so the citizenry will continue to live their lives in fear of a nonexistent swamp creature.


Fundamentally, this can be treated as a data-visualization problem: all articles about the same topic need to be linked together in an easy-to-browser chronological interface (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Each box represents a link to an article. Each color (and horizontal row) is a very specific topic: for example, the top one chronicles the adventures of a highly questionable toothpaste-sales startup. It’s very obvious at a glance what is going on in each topic: there’s no need to click through ten different articles to figure out what the current state of affairs is.

This flowchart interface could just show up in the header (or footer) of each affected article, allowing for easy navigation.


Even if you find the swamp creature example uncompelling, there is always the real-world situation where people have their reputations tarnished by false allegations. For example, if an article is published that says “Guy Jones was arrested for heinous crimes,” and later it turns out that it was a case of mistaken identity, well, too bad for that guy—the original article (which is factually accurate—he was arrested—but also generally implies that he probably also did the crimes) is still going to be competing for attention with the “oh whoops, he definitely didn’t do it!” article.

PROS: Creates jobs for user interface designers. Might help maintain an informed citizenry.

CONS: Might cause fewer people to click on outdated articles, thus costing news web sites valuable ad revenue.