Updated: Francisco is leaving MarketWatch after this fracas…she has written her hurriedly-done last column for the site. She says in the column that Peter Thiel own 5 percent of her company. “With much regret, I’m leaving MarketWatch, my employer for eight years, as a full-time columnist and correspondent, though I hope to maintain ties.”
This is the second Internet columnist departure from MarketWatch in a month…longtime journalist Frank Barnako left last week to work on his startup.
Original post: For months, high-profile MarketWatch journalist Bambi Francisco has been involved — quite publicly — in a start-up with PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Vator.tv (as in elevator pitch) features video reports by Francisco and Thiel on various start-ups. They’ve done a promo with AlwaysOn; she was a guest host at a February event sponsored by Sun identified as being from DJ MarketWatch and Vator.TV; she’s written about it at her personal bambi.blogs.com. She has been out trying to raise money for it as well.
It was no secret to anyone paying attention and, as CNET reported Thursday, it was not a secret from her employer. Turns out she had permission from Dave Callaway, the editor in chief of MarketWatch — a dubious decision at best but accompanied by some ground rules. She was not to write about Thiel or about the companies featured on Vator.tv. (She also was not moved from her beat of covering Silicon Valley and her readers were not informed of her changed status.) First CNET and then MKTW older sibling WSJ found a number of instances where those ground rules did not hold. At this point, it is hard to see how the situation fits DJ’s ethics guidelines — the last sentence of the WSJ story quotes the part others at DJ are sure to see as relevant — or how Francisco can stay at MKTW and be an entrepreneur at the same time.
CNET and others are trying to frame this as a new media versus old media ethics issue. Actually, the new media way calls for more transparency. We go out of our way here at ContentNext Media to disclose actual or potential conflicts. (We had a doozy this week: a story about a company that met all our requirements for start-up coverage but was co-founded by our former COO and the son of an investor. We ran a note that was almost as long as the story.) Sometimes we go too far; sometimes we fret that we haven’t gone far enough. We also avoid situations that will cause conflicts that we think could affect the perception of our journalism. Making it about new media-old media is the easy way out.