'Man Bites Dog': Adrian Masters on the Welsh newspaper headline that went viral

The headline (and photo) that started it all

Old and new media met in a spectacular way when one of my posts on Twitter suddenly 'went viral' as the jargon goes and was shared all over the world.

It also shows those of us interested in the production of news that journalism still has power to surprise as well as inform.

It was the last thing I expected when my copy of the South Wales Argus popped through the letterbox on Saturday.

I certainly gasped with surprise when I saw the front page headline. I knew that the Argus editor Kevin Ward has been making a determined effort to devote the paper's front page to dramatic photographs and headlines, but this was something else.

'Man Bites Dog' is the way journalists are taught the difference between news and non-news. 'Dog Bites Man' is not a story. Rearrange the words though so that they become 'Man Bites Dog' and that's unusual, that's news.

However while all journalists may be taught it, none of us have ever seen it as a real headline. That's what caused my surprise and led me to take a picture and tweet about it.

If you use Twitter you'll know about retweets, which is when another Twitter user shares your original comment with their followers.

It's what makes Twitter good for sharing information, comments, jokes or pictures of cats.

As I'd expected fellow journalists had started sharing it and Kevin Ward replied to say that he'd waited thirty years to write that headline.

I didn't expect what happened later. My phone started pinging with alerts telling me that my tweet had been retweeted, or that someone had made it a favourite, or had quoted me in their own tweet. And it kept pinging and pinging and pinging all day and all night.

At the time of writing it has been retweeted over 1,000 times not to mention the hundreds of favourites and comments. As the day progressed I was even seeing my picture pop up in other people's tweets as if it were their own. The presence of my thumb is the giveaway!

What made this go viral? It certainly wasn't the story itself, which was about an unpleasant trial of a violent man whose attacks included biting his partner's dog.

It was retweeted by journalists, students and people interested in the production of news all over the UK and all over he world.

Whenever a prominent journalist like John Rentoul, Chris Shipman or Paul Waugh or a publication like the UK Press Gazette retweeted it a new wave would begin.

And I think that shows how many people share an interest in the production of news and recognise a good headline when they see one. It also shows how quickly information can travel the globe in the digital era.

Now I wonder if I dare to switch notifications back on on my phone...