It’s your turn to be a CNN boss

Editor’s Note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion. VOTE on what he will cover as part of the Change the List project. The ballot works best on desktop computers and tablets. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him:

Story highlights

Vote on which of these stories you like best and CNN will cover the top five

The vote is part of a new project called Change the List, led by John Sutter

Sutter: Change the List aims to bring attention to places that need it most

Malaria, polio, women's rights, Internet access and free speech all are on the list

CNN  — 

We journalists tend to think of ourselves as public servants, but we sure don’t act like it all the time. The institution has one foot firmly planted in elitism: Editors know what you need to know before you know you need to know it. It would be foolish to think that – gasp! – the public could help decide what matters.

But things don’t have to be that way, right?

We’re better people when we work together.

It’s in a spirit of democracy and inclusion that I’m asking you to vote on the stories I should cover over the course of the next 12 months for a new CNN project called Change the List. It’s not that I don’t have ideas about what I’d like to do, or that the views of professional journalists don’t matter. They do. It’s that I also trust your judgment and I want to write about issues you find important.

Vote here: You pick it, CNN covers it

I also want you to participate in every part of the storytelling.

John D. Sutter

With help from lots of smart people, I’ve selected 20 story ideas I think are worthy of your attention. Each highlights an extreme case: The country with the least access to toilets; the state with the highest incarceration rate; the nation where malaria is deadliest; the place where 1 in 100 live births kills the mother; the country where the largest number of new leprosy cases is diagnosed each year; the one country that ranks below North Korea on free speech.

The goal, as the name Change the List suggests, is to start a conversation that could – just maybe, and over time – bump these places off the bottom of the list.

It’s a project that supports the world’s underdogs. The aim isn’t to shame the places at the bottom of the list; it’s to give them a megaphone and support.

Go to the Change the List homepage – – to pick your top five stories from the list of 20 before voting closes on Monday, June 17.

Think of this as your chance to be a CNN assignment editor. You’re my boss, in fact. (Dear people who pay me: Please keep doing that?) And as my new (and hopefully benevolent) Internet-based overlord, you have every right to tell me these 20 ideas are junk. Instead of firing me, I’d ask that you send me an e-mail ( or a note on Twitter (@jdsutter) with an idea for a story you think is more important or interesting. We’re going to include a sixth wild-card choice in the coverage plan – and, while CNN’s editors will have the final say, that idea could come from you.

Since I hope you’ll take me on as an employee, I should probably tell you a little bit about myself. I’ve been at CNN for more than four years now, covering all sorts of topics, from video gaming in South Korea to prisons in Norway and slavery in Mauritania. If there’s one thing this place has taught me it’s that stories are more powerful, memorable and meaningful when you participate in them.

I saw this last month when strangers on Twitter helped me navigate a somewhat treacherous walk through the 17-mile path of an Oklahoma tornado. I wasn’t alone on that two-day trek. I was on a journey with dozens of new friends.

“@jdsutter maybe I should tweet you a picture of the bottom of my foot as an example of why tetanus shots are important?”

And I saw it after dozens of CNN iReporters sent in “messages of hope” to former and escaped slaves in Mauritania, which I visited in 2011. Support videos came from all over: from Saudi Arabia to South Korea, California to Kentucky.

“I want you to know that all of us are so proud of you …,” one woman said to the group of former slaves, who were taking classes in Mauritania’s capital.

And I saw it last year when a videographer, Edythe McNamee, and I did the pilot for Change the List. We featured Hawaii, the U.S. state with the lowest voter turnout rate. Less than half of Hawaii’s residents voted in the 2008 presidential election.

We weren’t able to change that in one month, of course, but we did get people talking. Hawaii tied West Virginia for 49th place in voter turnout in the November 2012 election. And, more meaningfully for me, three of the six nonvoters we featured as part of a story called “Convince me to vote!” ended up voting because of messages CNN’s readers sent to them via social media.

“I feel good about it,” one man said of his decision to vote for the first time.

It’s journalism with an agenda. I’m not ashamed of that.

The main agenda is for your voice to be heard – and for us to work together to amplify the voices of people that aren’t often heard in the news.

And it starts with a vote. So tell me, boss. What should we cover?

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The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.