Let history record some of Sam Donaldson's first words on the first Internet broadcast of a regularly scheduled television program:
"When do I get to be seen in more than 2 inches by 2 inches?"
ABC launched Donaldson's live, 15-minute Webcast yesterday at 12:30 p.m., its time slot for each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, though people can view it anytime. There were two interviews, a report from a remote location, e-mail responses, an instant survey and one commercial.
But most of all, there was a hammy performance by Donaldson, who gave up the White House beat and co-anchorship of "20/20" to begin his cyberspace career.
That was no accident, said ABC News President David Westin, who sees marketable personalities as an important part of the network's identity, and that of abcnews.com.
"Sam is a very distinctive voice," Westin said. But he also values Donaldson as a careful reporter: "You can get in trouble, as some people have, by reporting instantaneously on the Internet things that turn out to be instantaneously wrong. . . . Clearly," he added, "the potential for this medium is enormous."
Westin acknowledged that ABC is making a major push on the Web because it has no cable outlet for round-the-clock news.
Donaldson interviewed Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard yesterday (and plans to chat up Jimmy Carter from Atlanta Friday). The "streaming" video worked reasonably well. The Webcast also included some silliness; after a story on Dan Quayle quitting the presidential race, 92.1 percent of respondents to a survey picked the correct spelling of "potato."
"You can't tell Peter Jennings what you think of him, at least not directly," Donaldson told computer users. "Well, you can tell me."
While he initially had little interest in the venture, Donaldson told reporters, he changed his mind after talking "to people who are a lot smarter than I am." Despite the prospect of a dramatically smaller audience than television, he said, "I'm pumped."