MarketWatch's Bambi Francisco resigns

Veteran business reporter steps down after her ties to start-up raise questions about conflicts of interest.
Written by Greg Sandoval, Contributor
Dow Jones on Friday accepted the resignation of MarketWatch columnist Bambi Francisco, according to a brief statement released by the company.

The move follows a CNET News.com story from Thursday that raised questions about Francisco's stake in start-up Vator.tv and her business relationship with one of the company's backers, Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder who is now a venture capitalist.

Bambi Francisco
Bambi Francisco

Dow Jones forbids employees from investing in companies and industries they write about, according to a Friday report about Francisco in The Wall Street Journal, which like MarketWatch, is also owned by Dow Jones. Most news organizations enforce similar rules to prevent reporters from becoming compromised by conflicts of interest.

"Dow Jones demands the highest journalism standards at our own publications and services, as reflected by our strict code of conduct," said L. Gordon Crovitz, executive vice president of Dow Jones, in a statement. "Our MarketWatch reporter Bambi Francisco started Vator.tv on her own time with our approval, under certain guidelines, on permitted areas of coverage. Bambi has decided to pursue her enterprise full time."

Francisco, a 15-year business reporter who writes columns, news stories and blogs, and files video reports for MarketWatch, filed what Dow Jones called her final MarketWatch column on Friday afternoon. Francisco wrote that she founded Vator, which intends to become a matchmaker for other start-ups and venture capitalists, to help her "vet start-ups' pitches and to give exposure to those I'd invariably overlook as a columnist."

"I mentioned the idea to Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and manager of the $2 billion hedge fund Clarium Capital," Francisco wrote. "Peter saw value in such a vetting mechanism, and he asked if he could invest. I told Peter that it was just an experiment at the time. But if the platform reached 50 videos, then perhaps it was worth investing in. Peter currently owns less than 5 percent."

Francisco's depiction in the column Friday of how Vator.tv got its start differs from what she said in three earlier interviews with CNET News.com. In the earlier interviews, Francisco said she received a stake in Vator.tv from Thiel last September without having to invest any of her own money, and that she never wrote about companies that used her start-up's service.

MarketWatch Editor-in-Chief David Callaway, in a separate interview, said Francisco came to him with the idea and he OK'd it, but she was required to avoid writing about Vator.tv or any of the companies using the service. Callaway also said she was to avoid writing about Thiel's interests. Callaway did not immediately return a call for comment Friday afternoon.

But since September, Francisco wrote pieces about three companies that used Vator.tv: PreFound; Helio and Friendster, according to the Journal article. News.com reported that, since becoming a Vator stakeholder, she had also written stories about three companies with financial ties to Thiel: LinkedIn; Powerset and Facebook.

In a Friday interview several hours before her final column was published, Francisco reiterated that she believed she had done nothing wrong.

"I've complied with all the codes of conduct," she said.

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