Bambi Francisco has decided to leave her job at Marketwatch and run Vator.tv full-time, which I think is the right move to make, and I wish her well. And Pete Cashmore notes that the whole conflict of interest brouhaha (or is it more of a kerfuffle?) has actually been pretty good marketing for Vator.

Original post:

When is a conflict of interest not a conflict of interest? When it involves a Web startup, apparently. Both the Wall Street Journal and ZDNet have written about Vator.tv, and how one of the key players behind the company — which does interviews with CEOs of various startups — is Bambi Francisco, the wonderfully-named tech writer for Marketwatch.com.

bambi.jpgThere are a couple of obvious problem with this, one of the first being that interviewing CEOs of startups is Bambi’s actual job, and now she is starting a company to do that separate from Marketwatch. But it gets worse: according to both the WSJ and ZDNet, Ms. Francisco owns a stake in Vator.tv, and her main partner and financial backer in the venture is none other than Peter Thiel, a cofounder of PayPal and now a venture capitalist. Bambi’s coverage at Marketwatch has also mentioned both Mr. Thiel and some of the various technology companies that he has invested in or advises.

Could this be any more clear-cut an example of conflict? I don’t see how. And yet, Marketwatch editor David Callaway tells ZDNet that:

“the rigid rules of the past may not always apply to new media. Is there a potential for a conflict in Bambi’s case? Yes. Do I think we can avoid it? Yes.”

Matt Marshall of VentureBeat seems to feel that Ms. Francisco has been wronged in some way by the coverage of this story, and that it is “a non-scandal,” and many may agree with him. I am not one of them. However, he also comes to what I think is the correct conclusion: Bambi has to leave Marketwatch (to avoid what he calls “complications,” and what I would call conflicts). Either that or she has to sever her financial relationship with Vator, or make Marketwatch a partner in the venture.

An internal memo from David Callaway to Marketwatch staff is here, but it doesn’t do much to clarify the situation (at least not to me). Let’s review one thing that Mr. Callaway seems to have missed: A conflict of interest doesn’t exist or not exist because *you* say it does — it’s something that your readers or viewers get to decide on. And in many cases, the appearance of a conflict is just as bad as having an actual conflict. Staci Kramer at PaidContent is right — making this about old vs. new media is a copout.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

7 Responses to “Conflict of interest, Web 2.0-style”
  1. Matthew
    She isn’t an investor in Vator, it is her company. She started it, and got Peter as an investor and has been out actively raising money. That part CNET and WSJ got wrong.

  2. Thanks for the comment, David — I’m aware of that from Matt’s post and others. If anything though, that makes the conflict worse.

  3. What new? How is this different than TechCrunch? Mike brags that conflict of interest is what makes TechCrunch great. You link to him all the time? How come you aren’t asking Mike to leave TechCrunch?

  4. Well, Randy, I can think of a few things that make it different — one is that Mike has said he doesn’t take shares in companies, as he mentioned in the ZDNet story, and he declares his conflicts openly. As far as I can tell, Bambi has done the former and not done the latter.

  5. Mathew, that completely untrue. Mike has been caught too many times trying to conceal his conflicts of interest.

  6. I realize Mike has had some issues in the past with disclosure of conflicts, but I get the impression he has gotten better at disclosing them — certainly a lot better than Bambi was at disclosing hers. You’re free to disagree, of course.

  7. Would it be a conflict of interest if someone from Ford Motors started up an after market parts company?

    Is this only a conflict of interests because they are pushing a company that was started by a former employee?

    We are talking about journalism and reporting. If it is news it should be reported.

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