A print headline that took internet by storm - Times of India

A print headline that took internet by storm – Times of India


The scenes playing out on TV were difficult to believe. A violent mob, incited by Donald Trump, had overwhelmed the police and stormed the US Capitol, the seat of Congress (their Parliament), while it was in joint session to certify the election of Joe Biden as the next President. They were on a rampage through the Senate and House of Representatives chambers, even the Speaker’s office, and had occupied the Vice President’s seat, while legislators who couldn’t be evacuated hid wherever they could.

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It was unlike anything the world’s oldest democracy, and pre-eminent superpower, had ever witnessed. As for the rest of the world, they could only watch in shock and wonder — and in countries (such as China) that have been at the receiving end of America sermonising them on democracy, with a certain schadenfreude.

Trump had for weeks made a series of devious and dastardly attempts at overturning Biden’s legitimate victory, and this was his last-gasp assault to steal the election. This wasn’t a peaceful protest or an agitation, this was insurrection, an assault on democracy itself. And those doing his bidding were a white mob, at least one of whom could be seen waving a Confederate flag, a shameful reminder of slavery and a symbol of racism.

It was one of those days that called for a headline that rose above the functional. And as with all such big news days — whether in India or overseas — the editor reached out to colleagues for suggestions. There were many that were on-point and worthy of consideration. But the search for a headline for the ages continued, and minutes away from deadline for the first edition, in a back-and-forth between the editor and a senior colleague, a headline struck, and stuck: “Coup Klux Klan: Don Triggers Mob & Rob Bid”. There was a brief debate over whether the reference to the Ku Klux Klan — the white supremacist hate group that Trump has long played footsie with — might be lost on some readers in India.

But given the worldwide and decades-long notoriety of the KKK, and the highly educated profile of the regular TOI reader, the decision was to go with it. Little did we know at the time that it would set the internet on fire, especially among Americans (and not just PIOs).

The headline almost immediately took on a life of its own, becoming, in the news space, a global blockbuster. Although there were/are multiple ‘threads’, it was a tweet by the US-based Dr Krupali — “Oh India KNOWS how to write a headline” with an image of the front page of The Times of India (the first edition) — that went viral. Within the first two days, it had chalked up over 380,000 likes, about 75,000 retweets, and 4,600 quote tweets (which are like comments). In terms of traction, that represents more than 30 times the approximately 11,400 followers that the handle @krupali has.

For a bit of perspective on how massive this is: The closest any other engagement came to the TOI headline was a video on the Capitol siege shared by Josh Campbell, a CNN correspondent — 55,000 likes and 31,500 retweets. TOI’s was 7 and 2.4 times that, respectively. Most other tweets, including from mainstream outlets, didn’t make it beyond 2,000 likes. On Facebook and Instagram, too, the headline was a hit.

Remember, this was an Indian newspaper in a universe dominated by New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox and other big-name print, TV and digital outlets. In the news space, CNN Breaking News has the highest number of followers on Twitter — 60 million. Its coverage of the siege had 3,000 likes and 1,500 retweets for an average tweet, with the highest being around 42,000 likes and 9,000 retweets for an article talking about the possible impeachment of Trump — a tiny fraction of what the TOI headline got in the US.

What the TOI headline highlights is the power of print in driving conversation on the important issues of the day — across platforms (whether print, TV or digital) and beyond national and continental boundaries.



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