Ranjona Banerji: Clickbait headline in TOI diminishes horror of school gangrape case

21 Sep,2018

By Ranjona Banerji


Not surprisingly, the horrific gangrape of a school student here at a boarding school in Dehradun and the subsequent coverup by school authorities have dominated conversations in the capital of Uttarakhand. The national media has also covered this case extensively.

But on the sidelines, another storm has been brewing. The Kolkata edition of The Times of India, for a report on this story, came up with the headline: “Doon school covers up girl’s rape; tries to force abortion”. This misleading headline was also used on the internet. Immediately, The Doon School’s network erupted. Matthew Raggett, headmaster of the prestigious school, was inundated with calls, from frantic parents and old boys, worried about what was happening at his school.

Raggett wrote a quick letter to TOI, which pointed among other things: “Reporting any school in the region as ‘Doon school’ is confusing and a newspaper of TOI’s stature should not be making such sophomoric mistakes”. The letter goes on to ask for a retraction and apology.

The website changed the headline to ‘Dehradun school’ and a small clarification was carried in the next day’s newspaper, at least in the Dehradun edition.

It is worth explaining that the Dehradun edition of the newspaper used the term, ‘City school’ in its headlines and never ‘Doon school’.

An unfortunate fallout of this is that the reporter whose byline is carried with the story is being roundly abused across Dehradun for being mischievous and irresponsible. However, as anyone in the media business knows, the reporter had very little to do with headlines. And a reporter in Dehradun has no control over what a sub-editor decides to do in Kolkata. But this process is not easily explainable to those outside the media and they take it as a weak excuse. The end result is that because of the actions of the desk, a diligent reporter is being abused for no fault of his.

Technically of course, the TOI cannot be touched. The ‘school’ was in lower case and the name ‘The Doon School’ is not mentioned anywhere. Within the story, the location of the school makes it clear that it is nowhere near The Doon School. Also, The Doon School is primarily a boys’ boarding school.

However, it is more than possible that whoever gave that headline, was being too clever by half. It is a stretch to assume the desk in Kolkata was genuinely ignorant and therefore “innocent”. Also, using the words ‘Doon school’, lower case ‘s’ or not, is clearly a clickbait headline, playing upon people’s recognition of the most famous school in Dehradun.

Given the Times of India’s newly stated policy of avoiding clickbait headlines and fake news, the organisation might do itself a favour by explaining this policy to its employees. Obviously, not everyone got the memo. Because the web edition of the TOI also went the clickbait route.

The other dangerous fallout is that the happenings at the school where the gangrape and coverup took place might well get lost in all this ambient noise. Like in the Rewari gangrape, where subsequent news events seem to have overtaken the fact that the Haryana Police cannot arrest two of the accused. We definitely need the media to get back to that.



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