Latest Use of Twitter: Atlantic Editor Scouts for Talent

The Atlantic senior editor Alexis Madrigal took to Twitter to crowdsource ideas for possible hires Tuesday, in what he says was an unofficial exercise.

Madrigal, who covers technology, asked more than 41,700 followers, "If you could hire any three journalists working primarily online today, who would they be?"

The call for names came not long after the news that The Atlantic’s star blogger Andrew Sullivan would be leaving for Tina Brown's Daily Beast-Newsweek hybrid. Madrigal says his tweet wasn’t related to Sullivan’s move.

"The exercise wasn't inspired at all by Andrew (and his four excellent editors, who I'm also very sad to see go) leaving The Atlantic," Madrigal said in an email to Adweek. "I just got randomly curious as I was sitting at my desk about who my people thought were the best talents out there."

Or, as he put it in another tweet: "Hey, I don't do the hiring around here. I just do the talent scouting for fun."

Madrigal's call—clarified to include not just "journalists" but anyone "who write[s] online"—quickly turned into the latest iteration of an ongoing discussion of a byline gender gap. (The issue has gotten enough attention recently that it has spawned Lady Journos, a Tumblr blog that highlights the work of female scribes.) Ultimately, this discussion resulted in a list of 84 suggestions, with a relatively even split of 44 males and 40 females.

But the early returns weren't so gender balanced.

Madrigal wrote about two hours after the initial tweet: "Just saying: The male/female ratio is pretty bad," explaining that only 12 of 39 names suggested at that point were female writers.

Asked for his take on why the early returns skewed male, Madrigal guessed that "the structural factors involved in filtering a disproportionate number of men upwards in media were at play. It's easy to think of people at high-profile places, and there is a preponderance of men in those places."

He added, "The only reason it caught me by surprise is that so many people talk about wanting to Change the Ratio (thanks for the frame, Rachel Sklar) but then when queried, suggest men overwhelmingly. Seems to speak to the depth of the challenge."

But, Madrigal said, flagging the discrepancy spurred a surge in the number of female names: "One problem, I think, with pointing out the male/female ratio is that then I think people start thinking very specifically 'female journalist, female journalist.' So a bunch of the suggestions that came in after that were people who write specifically about women's issues (however variably people tend to define them). You come to realize the importance of prompt design as people rummage in their brains for answers to your question."