Rob Sgobbo (pictured), a young writer for the New York Daily News, has had a freelance story he wrote yanked from the Village Voice's website. He apparently fabricated sources and lied about his reporting. (Update: the NYDN has canned him.)
Voice editor Tony Ortega says in an editor's note that in a story examining for-profit colleges (here's the cached version), Sgobbo "invented a character, 'Tamicka Bourges,' who claimed she had amassed a large debt at Berkeley College without obtaining a degree."
Did he ever! Bourges' sob story is central to Sgobbo's story.
"My parents never made a lot of money, so I was hoping that with a business bachelor's degree, I could go into banking," says Bourges, who describes her high school performance as "OK." She received B's and C's in most of her classes, but performed poorly on the SAT. "Harvard was out of the question," she laughs.
Etc. Ortega writes that Sgobbo also lied about speaking to a Berkeley spokesperson, and totally invented a spokesperson for the GAO. A source at the NYDN—where Sgobbo has more than 70 bylines—says of him, "He seemed like one of the brighter interns."
Guess not. No word yet on Sgobbo's career future, though it can't be bright. The Village Voice fired one of its most respected writers earlier this week; some former Voice staffers are already calling this "karma." Anyone who knows more about this, email me.
UPDATE: NYDN spokesperson Jennifer Mauer sent us this statement: "The Daily News has terminated its relationship with freelancer Rob Sgobbo. He has assured us he never fabricated anything that appeared in the Daily News; however, we are reviewing his stories for any inconsistencies."
UPDATE 2: One strange portion of Sgobbo's story that wasn't directly addressed in the editor's note is this:
Richard Wieda, who teaches at the High School for Fashion Industries in Chelsea, regularly holds "college information sessions" for his students to warn them of the potential risks of attending a for-profit school. "I always tell my students that they should ask themselves, ‘Is it really worth it to get that degree if you're going to be $20,000 in debt?' " he says. "If it were Columbia or New York University, I would say ‘maybe.' But for a business degree at TCI? I'm not so sure."
Last summer, Wieda received a call from Tamicka Bourges, a former student of his who three years ago enrolled at Berkeley College, a business school with almost 9,000 students. "She was in tears," recalls Wieda. "She was dropping out of Berkeley with no degree and had $25,000 in student loan debt. She didn't know what to do."
Richard Wieda is a real person, but Tamicka Bourges isn't. Voice editor Tony Ortega tells us, "Wieda's first quote is genuine, the second one Sgobbo made up."