How the meme destroyed journalism

As if we need further evidence of the collapse of the journalist’s traditional role as information gatekeeper, TechCrunch offers us this: “Confirmed: HOPA Dry Erase Girl Is A Hoax, Identity Revealed”

It had the whiff of hoax all over it: A woman who looked like a model poses with a series of messages written on a dry erase board to rat out her former, nightmare boss. Of course, it WAS a hoax. But that wasn’t confirmed until the day after the story first emerged and became a huge, classic Internet sensation, complete with Facebook fan groups.

There are so many things about this. What struck me was how this so completely undermines any last vestige of the role of journalist as information gatekeeper. To cut right to it, that role appears more irrelevant and out of touch than ever. Here’s why:

It doesn’t matter that this was hoax, and sussing out the hoax prior to publication is even less relevant. In fact, today you could argue that traditional news outlets actually failed their readers if they suspected a hoax and refused to give this item play. That’s because here we are a day later and the story is all about the hoax, and if you didn’t initially cover it the previous day, you now look horribly behind the curve. Sure, you can feel proud that you refused to be suckered, but that’s cold comfort. Social networks gave this item undeniable life and momentum, and you just turned your back on it.

What we’re seeing here is a complete reversal in the flow of information. Journalists used to be gatekeepers because they were able to work higher up the news stream. Now that gate is decidedly downstream. It may not even be a gate. Maybe something more like an algae-covered rock.