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e-Briefing | Celebrity Setup

From Broadcast to Webcast

ABC News Reporter Sam Donaldson Doesn't Mind Investigating New Technology.

February 22, 2001

Sam Donaldson is not only one of the best-known TV news reporters--he was chief White House correspondent for ABC during the administrations of Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton--he's also the only one to have a regular, Internet-only Webcast.

Three times a week, Donaldson hosts a 30-minute interview show, during which he explores news, entertainment and occasional technology topics, at http://www.abcnews.com. On television, he co-anchors "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts" on Sunday mornings and is a correspondent for the news magazine "20/20." He's been at ABC for 33 years.

DESKTOP: At work I have a Dell, an OptiPlex GX1. At home it's also a Dell, one of the newer ones that is blindingly fast. I'm about to get a second processor for it.

Q. If it's so fast, why do you need to upgrade?

My son is a computer technician and he says, "Dad, we might as well do it." It's only $200 because he gets a special deal. But I don't run games. I don't do high-tech imaging. I use it mostly as a word processor and to run Quicken for my personal and business finances.

I have a bank in Washington and one in New Mexico [where his family has had a farm and ranch business since 1910], and they both have online banking, which is a joy. I love to sit down on Saturday and pay the bills. You don't have to make out checks and put them in the mail. It's so much simpler.

And I use TurboTax to do my taxes.

Q. You do your own taxes?

Not for the business in New Mexico, but I do for myself.

I am at a point in my life where I could hire an accountant, but I don't have a complex tax situation. I'm not a high roller. I don't have tax shelters or anything like that. I just add up my charitable contributions, take the bank statements of the interest paid and put everything together.

Q. It sounds like you really enjoy it.

It's a sense of accomplishment. Maybe not like writing a book, but if you balance your checkbook on a computer and it all comes out right, there is satisfaction in that.

Churchill once said that a vacation is change, and I think that's right. For me, a vacation is not lying on some beach, it's a change from what I do for a living. And if it's challenging, that makes it all the better.

Q. That's why some people play games.

I have to confess that although I don't play any of the high-end games, playing hearts on the computer is another matter. And I play so that I shoot for the moon every time. If I get just one heart or the queen, I stop and play again. I go forward only if there is a chance I can win completely.

LAPTOP: It's another Dell, provided by the company, but it's very slow--seems like it takes five to eight minutes to connect online. The guys at work said, "Bring it in and we'll put a faster modem in it," but I do things on deadline. Just about the time it completely craps out, I'll take it in.

HAND-HELD: My son gave me a Palm VII, but I haven't used it yet. It seems to me that I don't need it, but if this were 1985 and you asked me if I wanted to buy a computer, I would have said, "Why? I love my electric typewriter." Now I couldn't do without a computer. So I'll give the Palm a try.

BOOKMARKED SITES: I really don't have any. I don't surf the Web that much. But I do use Google as my search engine. I had a dog in New Mexico who I loved that was a mixture of a Catalonian [sheep dog] and Rhodesian Ridgeback. I went on the Web to search for the same mixture but have not found one yet.

AUDIO/VIDEO SYSTEM: We have a garden-variety sound system in the house, not anything special. And we have two or three televisions--the biggest one is 27 inches.

I seldom watch the commercial networks. I work for one, but frankly, most of the stuff there--while very good programming--is not what I'm into. I watch the History Channel and my friend Roger Mudd and A&E, which ABC owns 35% of. I love the channels like AMC that show old movies and, of course, some of the all-news channels.

HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED THE WAY YOU WORK?

It has certainly changed me as a writer. I have been in Washington exactly 40 years this month, and for most of that time I've used pens, notebooks, then a tape recorder and always a typewriter. I got my first computer in 1986 when there were no computers at ABC News. I got it to write a book [his autobiography, "Hold On, Mr. President"].

If it hadn't been for the computer, I don't think I would have written the book at all. Television scripts are different; they are much shorter pieces of writing. I didn't go into print [journalism] because I did not have the aspirations and discipline to be a prolific writer. However, thanks to the ease of using a computer, I could do it.

Now they joke that they can't stop me. I write a daily e-mail for the Webcast and it could be just a few lines on what's coming up on the next show. But for example, for the show on Ronald Reagan's 90th birthday, I regaled our e-mail readers with anecdotes and stories about that time in the White House. If I were back on the typewriter, I would never have done anything like that.

--As told to DAVID COLKER

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