Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The people have spoken!

By John D. Sutter, CNN
June 18, 2013 -- Updated 1236 GMT (2036 HKT)
CNN asked readers to vote on the stories columnist John D. Sutter will cover as part of his <a href='http://cnn.com/change'>Change the List</a> project. More than 32,000 votes were cast. Here are the winners: 1. Widest rich-poor gap, 16,789 votes. What's happening to America's middle class? One state may yield answers. CNN asked readers to vote on the stories columnist John D. Sutter will cover as part of his Change the List project. More than 32,000 votes were cast. Here are the winners: 1. Widest rich-poor gap, 16,789 votes. What's happening to America's middle class? One state may yield answers.
HIDE CAPTION
Winners of the Change the List vote
Winners of the Change the List vote
Winners of the Change the List vote
Winners of the Change the List vote
Winners of the Change the List vote
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 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"

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion and head of Change the List. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. E-mail him at ctl@cnn.com.

(CNN) -- 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.

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter

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.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1928 GMT (0328 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT