The WSJ and Zdnet have published oddly incomplete stories about Bambi Francisco, a reporter at Marketwatch, who they say “invested” in a side company called Vator.tv.
They suggest scandal, because she reported at Marketwatch about people who also invested in Vator.
Bambi’s employers requested that she not to talk with reporters about this, but we’ve talked with Bambi over the past few months, so know what she’s been up to. Fact is, Vator is Bambi. This was not a side investment, so much as her own company. Her investment was mainly sweat equity. Read the stories above carefully with that in mind, and it becomes largely a non-scandal. If Vator became a success, the understanding was that she would leave and do it full time.
There are clearly issues she could have handled much better though. The one for us, was that she reported on the activities of venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who also is an investor of Vator. In those stories, published on Vator itself, she should have disclosed his investment more clearly in the story/video itself (he is listed as an investor elsewhere on Vator). We’ve talked with Bambi this morning, and she agrees now that she should have been clearer, but that the site was so small and had so little traffic she just didn’t think of it. Personally, we think she should take the dive into independence (easier said than done), and break altogether from DowJones/Marketwatch, because of the significant complications caused by staying there.
As for her coverage of LinkedIn, Powerset, and Facebook while at Marketwatch, those are all legitimate stories for anyone to be covering, and we understand that she had an agreement with her employer that she could write stories — even those involving Vator’s investors — once they became legitimate stories in their own right. And it was difficult for her to disclose her Vator activities while reporting at Marketwatch, because the point was to avoid using the Marketwatch platform to publicize Vator. Where the ethical line is crossed is hard to tell under these conditions — another reason Bambi should cut and run.
Update: Later Friday, Bambi resigned. See Mercury News.