July 1997



Build It--Will They Come?

by Christopher Harper

The Internet and the World Wide Web have a great deal to offer. Unfortunately, a number of news organizations are not using the medium effectively. Not that long ago, the movie, "Field of Dreams," which focused on building a baseball field in the middle of nowhere, gave many Web designers and manufacturers the mantra, "Build it and they will come."

Today, the mantra should be from the fields of reality: "Build it well and make it easy. Otherwise, they will not come." When I pick up a telephone, I expect to hear a dial tone. When I click on my remote control, I expect my television to turn on. When I walk out my door at 7:30 a.m., I expect my newspaper to be in the driveway or at least in the rose bushes nearby. Until digital journalism can deliver that kind of reliability and convenience, people may not come. If people do not come, advertisers will not come. If advertisers do not come, digital journalism will die. That's my prediction. Right now, the Internet and the World Wide Web can not offer the typical user the same reliability of other media.

It's also worth noting that Johann Gutenberg apparently had little difficulty determining what book he would publish when he invented the printing press in the 1450s: the Bible. The printing of the Bible made it available to the public--a factor that many believe laid the foundation for the upheaval in organized religion. Individuals could now read the Bible without any interpretation from the clergy. Without Gutenberg's Bible, it is unlikely that Martin Luther would have received widespread public support after he pinned his complaints about the Roman Catholic Church on the door of the Wittenberg Church, starting the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century. Today, despite the amount of information that's available, it is somewhat ironic that the Bible remains a leading seller. Moreover, one of the most frequently visited sites on the World Wide Web is, the Web address of the Roman Catholic Church. It is unclear whether the computer and the Internet will have the revolutionary impact of the printing press. But this new medium does provide the opportunity for far more people to access and use the information that exists in the world.

Christopher Harper ( is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism at New York University in New York City. He has been a producer for the ABC News program "20/20," a Rome and Cairo Bureau Chief for ABC News, and reporter for Newsweek and the Associated Press.

Copyright © 1997 by Christopher Harper. All Rights Reserved.

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