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Impeachment trial draws in Netizens

The opening of the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton generates strong Net traffic as news sites offer up-to-the-minute accounts of the historic event.

    Today's opening of the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton is generating strong traffic on Internet news sites as they offer up-to-the-minute accounts of the historic event, replete with video, reader polls, chat, and background information.

    The coverage is not likely to break any traffic records, but early indications are that visits to online news sites covering the proceedings have increased steadily. As of noon ET--less than halfway through its news cycle--ABC News.com already had served up some 1.2 million page turns to 250,000 unique visitors. On a typical day, the site turns 3 million pages to 400,000 unique visitors.

    High-profile news events have driven traffic on many sites to record levels recently. The release of special prosecutor Ken Starr's report to Congress, former member of Congress John Glenn's return to space, and the latest U.S. offensive against Iraq are three such examples. In some cases, the congestion created by interested users has overloaded servers at some news sites.

    Like its competitors at CNN Interactive C-SPAN, and MSNBC, ABC News.com promises its visitors live and archived video clips from the Senate trial, which convened today with managers from the House of Representatives presenting two articles of impeachment.

    Still, news junkies intent on watching the proceedings live were better off catching them on television. Net gridlock and other difficulties made attempts to view live video streams a mostly time-consuming and fruitless endeavor.

    Less cumbersome, however, are video clips explaining how the proceedings are likely to work, as well as clips of past highlights from the impeachment saga. Sites also are including background materials, such as Starr's report to Congress, and many are providing chat rooms in which readers can exchange their views on today's event with others readers.

    "We're able to provide news to users when they want it and give them a place to offer their own opinions," said Michelle Bergman, a spokeswoman for ABC News.com. She noted that the sites' coverage is especially popular during the work day because users who may not have access to television while on the time clock can log on to the site as their work schedules permit.

    While news traffic is very high today, three separate news sites said they would be hard-pressed to beat page view numbers from previous watershed events. MSNBC, for instance, saw its busiest day ever on September 11, 1998, with nearly 2 million unique visitors logging on when the Starr report was first released on the Internet. A close second in terms of traffic for many news sites was the launching of Operation Desert Fox at the end of last year.

    "We're seeing strong traffic, but no spikes," said Kerrin Roberts, a spokesman for CNN. "It's a strong day, but it's not going to be in the top five days, I think."