Star Tribune Editor: Covering the Senser trial

  • Article by: NANCY BARNES , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 28, 2012 - 9:29 PM

If we do our job well, readers will be able to fully understand the Senser case.

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Amy Senser

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The trial of Amy Senser for criminal vehicular homicide has been one of the most explosive stories in town, starting with that first report in August that a Senser vehicle was involved in a hit-and-run accident.

It's a tragic story that has proven impossible to resist: Wife of a former Vikings player strikes a young immigrant chef with her Mercedes-Benz, killing him, then leaves the scene.

It has been fueled by an extraordinary amount of information and allegation unleashed publicly, long before the first witness was called last week. It's fair to assume that every salacious detail has been debated at cocktail parties and across dinner tables throughout Minnesota.

Our job has been to sort through the theatrics, share the charges and facts, and help readers come to their own opinions about what really happened here, just as jurors must do at the end of this trial.

At the heart of this case is not whether Amy Senser was driving the car, how much she drinks, or whether she's a responsible mother or wife. It's not about wealth or class, although that is obviously part of the story line.

The key question is simply this: Did she know she had hit someone that night?

As the trial began, we had two reporters in place, one photographer, one videographer and a sketch artist; their challenge has been to report on the story around the clock and across multiple platforms, as is the nature of modern-day journalism.

The journalists divvied up their responsibilities to cover the testimony, catch potential sources and family members coming and going, update StarTribune.com and social media with developments, and give on-camera reports at key points during the day.

When court shuts down for the day, they come back to the office to edit their photographs and video and write a complete and engaging story for the printed paper. It's fascinating -- and exhausting --work.

Abby Simons, our court reporter, has been the face of this coverage, writing most of the daily stories, doing analysis on video, and serving as an expert for local television stations and national media such as "Good Morning America."

She has matter-of-factly laid out the case, has captured the allegations and has shared the day's developments dispassionately with the public whether she is standing in front of a camera or writing a story.

The public has voraciously consumed this content. As of Friday morning, there had been 750,000 page views of coverage related to the case, or an average of 180,000 visits per day.

Our video updates have averaged about 10,000 views a day, with a video about Britanni Senser taking the stand getting 14,000 hits on its own.

As I've talked to the editors and journalists about this story, it's clear they take seriously their responsibility to report on the trial as it unfolds without jumping to conclusions.

For example: When the prosecutor suggested this week that Amy Senser had engaged in an affair, they knew it was their job to relay it as an insinuation and not a fact, unless proven. They will give the same fair treatment to the defense, which began late Friday.

If we've done our job well, the public will understand exactly what transpired in that courtroom, and will be able to understand (and intelligently debate) the verdict when it comes.

• • •

In other news, I'm both pleased and sorry to report that columnist Eric Wieffering will be leaving the business pages soon to take on a different role as assistant managing editor for local news.

Wieffering has delivered provocative, thoughtful and knowledgeable columns for the business section, making him a must-read for the business community.

That's exactly what we asked of him when he returned to the paper in the fall of 2010, after a brief sojourn to the business world. Every columnist, whatever the specialty, has a unique style and voice, so I won't promise readers that we will replace Wieffering's column per se.

But we will find another smart, thoughtful writer who understands business and who will make his or her own mark on the business page. That search is underway, and I hope to have someone new to introduce to you before long.

_______

Nancy Barnes is the Star Tribune's editor.

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