Screenshot from “The Staircase”

Screenshot from “The Staircase”

Nearly 13½ years ago, in her previous career as a TV reporter, Sonya Pfeiffer was in a courtroom daily for weeks covering the Michael Peterson murder trial, one of the longest and most expensive in Durham County history.

Pfeiffer, the former WTVD reporter who entered law school the fall after Peterson’s October 2003 conviction, often is in now in courtrooms in a different role: as a lawyer in Charlotte.

She wasn’t in the Durham County Courthouse on Friday, though, when Peterson accepted an Alford plea and a voluntary manslaughter conviction in the death of his wife, Kathleen. Peterson, who did not admit guilt, is now free based on time served after spending eight years and two months in prison. He was released in 2011 after being granted a new trial.

Pfeiffer may not have been there, but Candace Zamperini, one of Kathleen Peterson’s sisters shared some uncomplimentary words about Pfeiffer for about a minute of her 12½-minute statement during the hearing.

Zamperini, in emotional remarks (starting at 18:40 in the below video), called Pfeiffer one of three people who “went to great lengths to cause me emotional pain” and said she felt that Pfeiffer “betrayed me to the defense.

“She pretended to be my friend, she came to my home for an exclusive interview,” Zamperini said in court. “She invited me to dine. She told me she believed my sister had fallen down the staircase. Sonya Pfeiffer had the hubris to come to Maplewood Cemetery without an invitation to hold hands with our family [at Kathleen Peterson’s headstone].”

courtroom photo

Pfeiffer, who conducted the interview at Zamperini’s northern Virginia home, defended herself after listening Saturday to Zamperini’s remarks.

“I was surprised by her comments, but from a strictly human standpoint, can understand that she is fighting through a lot of anger given the recent turn of events in the case,” Pfeiffer said via email. “As an experienced reporter, I certainly did not provide any opinion on what I thought had happened to Kathleen Peterson, indeed to this day I have no opinion, but I know that over time people can create realities in their own mind that do not exist.”

Zamperini also had pointed comments about David Rudolf, Peterson’s lead defense lawyer in the trial and his counsel at Friday’s hearing. Rudolf is now Pfeiffer’s husband and her colleague at the Rudolf Widenhouse law firm.

“Covering the Peterson case was an intense, competitive undertaking,” said Pfeiffer, shown in the top photo during the Peterson trial.

Pfeiffer became part of the story when a letter she wrote, which invited the trial’s jurors to a dinner and interview at WTVD’s studios, was sent to each juror during deliberations. She and the station’s news director said at the time that the letter was supposed to have been sent after the trial.

As to her interview with Zamperini, Pfeiffer said it was a good, fair interview that numerous media outlets were trying to get.

“Like all good reporters, I put in a lot of legwork to convince her to talk with me,” said Pfeiffer, who points to this May 2003 Indy Week story that mentions the interview in the final four paragraphs. “You will note that the interview was not taken well by the defense team, which, as a former reporter, you know means you probably got the story right.”

Several Triangle reporters in recent years left journalism to go to law school, but none with a twist quite like this. Covering one of the most notable trials in the Triangle history and later marrying one of the key players might result in unfavorable perceptions from some people.

“I can’t address other people’s perceptions,” Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer left WTVD when her three-year contract expired in December 2003, a few weeks after the Peterson trial, and took a job as a reporter and anchor with WCVB in Boston.

In fall 2004, she began law school at UNC but continued to work at WCVB part time before graduating with honors in 2007. During the school year, she worked at the station on weekends. During summers, she worked in the public defender office in Boston during the day and reported for WCVB at night.

Pfeiffer didn’t like where local TV journalism was going.

“My decision to pursue a law degree was related to my disillusionment with what was happening in local television news,” she said. “I was disheartened by the lack of focus on quality content, and an increasing fixation on sensationalism.

“Crime, traffic and weather dominated the assignments, and investigative journalism was no longer a priority,” she said. “I thought that getting a law degree would enable me to focus on legal reporting, so I could specialize and do more in-depth reporting, which I had previously done in Omaha and on Long Island.”

Before arriving at WTVD in December 2000, she worked at News 12 Long Island from March 1997-June 1998 and at WOWT in Omaha, the latter as a consumer and investigative reporter.

“Once I got to law school, however, I became involved with the public defender mentor project, the Innocence Project organization and the criminal clinic, through which I represented indigent kids in juvenile court,” she said. “I quickly realized there was a way to tell stories that made a real difference, and that was in the courtroom speaking on behalf of those who are marginalized too frequently.”

She became a Mecklenburg County assistant public defender in October 2007. After being an associate with the Charlotte firm of Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice from March 2010 to July 2011, she joined Rudolf, Widenhouse and Fialko, now Rudolf Widenhouse, in August 2012.

In her current firm, she represents clients in white-collar investigations in federal court, felony cases in state court and indigent clients in federally appointed cases. She has taken pro-bono clients in civil- and criminal-related cases and in the HB2 federal suit against the state of North Carolina.

North State Journal’s weekend print schedule shifts

Since the North State Journal started in 2016, the editorial deadlines for its Sunday print edition have been on Friday night. The editorial deadlines haven’t changed much, but the edition now prints Saturdays and is presented as a weekend edition much like the USA Today or the Wall Street Journal, publisher Neal Robbins said.

The first Saturday edition published two weekends ago, 10 days after its first Wednesday edition. The previous editorial deadline generally was 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. on Friday but now it is at 6 p.m.

“It was more reader-focused than anything, and there are some delivery routes that we’re now able to pick up on Saturdays that we didn’t have access to on Sundays,” Robbins said in explaining the change. “There will be a lot more people now that get it the same day than on Sunday.”

The switch from Sunday to Saturday had been long rumored and Robbins said that the decision for the change was made months ago. But he was waiting until they could pull off the change operationally.

“Press, freight, everything kind of came together,” Robbins said. “The delivery route, being able to get our routes done and get the right contractors in place, especially down east, is really going to help us get more people same-day delivery rather than in the mail.”

The NSJ runs many legal notices each edition. Six of the 22 pages in last Wednesday’s edition and five of 29 in last weekend’s edition were filled with legal notices.

North State Journal finalist for SND honor
The North State Journal is one of 12 finalists among 173 contest entries for the Society of Newspaper Design’s honor as the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper.

Most of the finalists are outside of the United States. The only other U.S. finalists are The Washington Post and The New York Times.

“I’ll take that company. It just shows that our investment in great designers,” said Robbins, mentioning Deb Withey, Cece Pascual, Liz Moomey and Lauren Rose. “Also our commitment to photography and our great photographers. Also having three editors who have great vision.”

No other North Carolina newspaper entered the contest. The News & Observer was a winner in the 1998 contest when there were 13 winners.

Newspapers entering the contest submitted five editions. The winner will be announced at SND’s annual workshop April 21 in Charlotte.

McClatchy’s Charlotte desk adds newspapers

The McClatchy News Desk East in Charlotte now does the copy editing and design work for
10 newspapers and it’s expected that by March 27, The Herald-Sun will become the
11th newspapers that hub serves.

On Feb. 20, the desk added The State of Columbia, S.C., and The Bradenton (Fla.) Herald. In addition to serving The Charlotte Observer and The N&O, the desk also serves The Herald of Rock Hill, S.C., The Island Packet of Hilton Head, S.C., the Centre Daily Times of State College, Pa., The Telegraph of Macon, Ga., The Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer and The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

When The N&O’s desk work went to Charlotte, copy editors and designers were forced to start working in Charlotte or be reassigned. Some of the copy editors and designers for most of the recent newspapers added to the hub are being given the option of working from that newspaper’s newsroom.

The copy editing and design work for The Herald-Sun will continue to be done at the Paxton Media Group’s hub in Owensboro, Ky., until the switch. The shift to the McClatchy print template is expected to happen when The H-S work shifts to Charlotte.

John Drescher, the executive editor of The N&O, said that The Herald-Sun, which currently is printed at Paxton Media Group’s press at the High Point Enterprise, will begin to be printed at McClatchy’s print facility in Garner by the end of March.

N&O’s Carter earns two APSE awards

Andrew Carter, The N&O’s UNC beat writer, has earned Associated Press Sports Editors top-10 awards for breaking news and beat writing for newspapers in the 75,000–175,000 circulation category.

The Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler, whose work often appears in The N&O, won top-10 honors for features in the same circulation category.

Winning daily top-10 section honors were The Charlotte Observer (75,000–175,000) and The Fayetteville Observer (30,000–75,000).

In the digital contest, The Charlotte Observer earned top-10 honors and The N&O got honorable-mention honors in the 750,001 to 1.999 million unique-monthly-visitors category.

Winning top-10 awards at the News & Record of Greensboro in the 30,000–75,000 circulation category were Jeff Mills and Brant Wilkerson-New for breaking news and Ed Hardin for columns.

The winners were announced at the APSE convention, which concluded Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Former UNC beat writer now an associate athletic director at UNC

Robbi Pickeral Evans’ career path likely is a first.

She has gone from being the UNC beat writer for The N&O, where she was a sports reporter from October 2003 to October 2011, to now becoming UNC’s associate athletic director for strategic communications and special assistant to the athletic director.

She was a college basketball reporter for for a little more than a year and a half after leaving The N&O, then became a media relations writer/editor at UNC in May 2013. Evans became director of content development in July 2014 before assuming her current post earlier this month.

Ravanos fill-in host on national network

Demetri Ravanos, who was executive producer and the third voice on WDNC’s “The Morning Show” before it got canceled last summer, is now a fill-in host for the nationally syndicated SB Nation Radio network.

He appears on the network on nearly a weekly basis. You can listen on the website or its app.

During football season, he was a host on WOIC (ESPN Columbia 94.9) for a Saturday morning college football show.




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