CNN lets readers choose the topics for the new Change the List project
John Sutter: More than 32,000 people voted. He will report on the five winners
One winning story will focus on the state with the widest rich-poor gap
Sutter: "This is journalism as democracy ... You're the boss"
Remember that scene at the end of that Facebook Movie (“The Social Network”) when Mark Zuckerberg’s character sits alone at a computer screen hitting the refresh button over and over again – stuck in a loop of anxiety and longing?
That’s how I felt last week.
On June 10, to re-launch a CNN Opinion project called Change the List, my editors and I put forward 20 story ideas for your consideration – and I agreed to do whatever five stories got the most votes. Meantime, a colleague of mine created an internal Web page so I could monitor, in all-the-time-real-time, which stories were leading the race. That internal website, which had a yellow banner that said, “CONFIDENTIAL: For internal use only” at the top of it, was titled “How John’s going to be spending the rest of 2013.”
I was nervous about the results because I was excited to know what I would be reporting on, of course – but, more importantly, because the topics CNN’s editors put forward really do matter: the most dangerous roads in the world; America’s failing education system; the country where 1 in 100 live births kills the mother.
These stories could make a difference.
So I checked that website again and again, to the point I briefly developed an eye twitch. This isn’t like me, by the way. I’m the kind of person who (usually) sits through dinner without reading texts. But for the seven days the poll was open I turned into some sort of one-function cyborg. Must. Check. Leaders.
I’m pleased to tell you the wait is finally over. My eye twitch has subsided and normal life can resume. At 2 p.m. on Monday we closed the poll. And here are the results. These are the Change the List stories for the next year – with one wild-card topic still to be determined by my editors (who I’m being reallllly nice to this week).
1. America’s widening rich-poor gap (16,789 votes)
2. Illegal animal trade (13,276 votes)
3. Where rape is most common (12,996)
4. The world’s poorest children (12,820)
5. America’s most endangered river (12,002)
Each story will focus on an extreme case – the state with the widest rich-poor gap or the place where rape is most common. Together we’ll try to start a conversation that could, in the long run, bump these places off the bottom of their respective lists.
I’ll announce the first story soon and will reveal the focus of each story (which river is the most endangered, for instance) during the reporting process.
I love that each of these stories was chosen by you. I see that as a mandate of sorts. When journalists pitch big projects they sometimes wonder, “Is this really the best use of my time?” I don’t have those doubts with Change the List. I know I’m working on your behalf – on the topics you’ve deemed most important.
This is journalism as democracy – rebalanced to give you power.
You’re the boss. That’s the way it should be.
I also think this vote created a pact between us. I know that you’ll have my back as I tackle these subjects and ask for your help in gathering info and pushing for change. These are subjects that are too massive to take on alone. I’ll need your help.
I’ll leave you with the rest of the list just so you can get a sense of what your peers on the Internet value. As I wrote last week, I was surprised by these numbers – not the fact that 32,546 ballots were submitted, but because a story about the economy finished at the top of the list, and several ideas I found to be most interesting (the country with 100,000 new cases of leprosy per year; the place in the United States without Internet access) received relatively few votes. About half of you picked the income inequality story, the winner, which would have been near the bottom of my ballot. Only 9% of the ballots submitted included the leprosy story, which would have been my top pick.
All these are worthy subjects. But the vote gave me pause. It made me re-evaluate my news judgment – and realize how interesting and rewarding it can be to include your perspectives in the story-selection process. You see things I’d miss on my own. And during the vote, you also gave me at least 97 story ideas that could be the basis for the wild card sixth story. How cool is that?
I hope you’ll follow this project over the coming months – and participate in its creation. The Change the List homepage – http://cnn.com/changethelist – is one place to look for updates. We also have Tumblr, and my personal social networks are listed in the editor’s note at the top of the story. Thanks to all who voted. I’m excited for this journey. I must have the best job in journalism. And it’s because I have all of you guiding me.
Here’s the rest of the list, including vote totals:
6. Where conflict is never-ending (11,566)
7. The state with the highest drop-out rate (10,372)
8. America’s most drug-dependent state (8,614)
9. The country ranked lower for free speech than North Korea (8,380)
10. The world’s deadliest roads (7,864)
11. Where women aren’t in government (7,197)
12. Where you’re most likely to be locked up (6,810)
13. Where 9 in 10 don’t have toilets (6,332)
14. Where mothers die in childbirth (4,753)
15. Malaria at its deadliest (4,648)
16. Landmines still end lives (4,125)
17. Three countries stand in the way of polio eradication (3,901)
18. No Internet – in the United States (3,823)
19. The saddest of the rich countries (3,682)
20. Where leprosy is still a scourge (2,781)
Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.
Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.
Was your top story chosen? Let us know in the comments.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.