Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Defining America

Quite the lofty headline, right? But that's just what CNN is aiming to do - and we need your help!


CNN producers from all across the network have come together to create the Defining America project. We were inspired by the 2010 census to gather all the data we can, from all the sources we can, and see what stories it tells about the U.S. And you, iReporters, are a critical piece of that.


We love the way you share your stories and help us put a personal spin on the news. So, to put some faces on all the overwhelming numbers in the Defining America project, we've created what we're calling the iReport cultural census. It's a set of five fun, simple assignments (plus a quick demographic survey) that help us get at the people and personalities behind the numbers. When you submit to an assignment, your iReport will become part of CNN's searchable database and map. The Defining America project, including the cultural census, will be a major feature on CNN.com and on CNN television. (You'll see a lot more news on this project soon, so check back in the coming months.)


It's a bit confusing, we'll admit, so here's the practical application of it all: Want to see handwriting styles of Democrats vs. Republicans? See what foods people across the country eat most frequently? Can you guess where someone's from or how they get around based on their accent? The iReport cultural census will let you do all that and more. Pretty neat, right?


Here are the assignments - you may have seen them living quietly on the site already:


Share a photo

Take a self-portrait. Get creative!


Read aloud

Tape yourself reading a standard passage.


Eat dinner

Show us a photo of you or your family's typical weeknight dinner.


Write this down

Scan or snap a photo of your handwriting.


Get around

Show us how you generally get around town.


If you contribute to one (or, hopefully, all five!) of the assignments above, we request that you also fill out this quick survey to help us classify and map your iReport.


There will be many more features and exciting news coming about this project within the next few months! For now, get started on these five topics so you can join in the fun. If you have any questions, please comment on this post and we'll make sure we get back to you.

March 1, 2011
Click to view Mangum's profile

I was about to fill out the survey and participate, but I got stuck on the marital status category. I'm none of the above, thank-you-very-much!


Note to CNN: If you're setting out to do a cultural survey of an entire nation, you might start by considering how the way you formulate your questions can limit the possibilities.  

March 1, 2011
Click to view ElDarwish's profile

Easy guys. You forget that ireport producers are , ahem...

very young ;)

I produced a similar project for my Psychology class in college. I covered my family for 30 days, conducted interviews of members but no video back then.

The outcome was astounding, to me, my family and the social worker that I later shared it with.

I feel that this exercise should be mandatory and funded the results would help all of us.....

IF CNN shared ALL of the entries publicly, did not vet any of them and agreed to share whom CNN shared the reports with.

Sadly, I'm well aware of the fact that Big Bro, uses CNN, Google, Facebook and Linkedin too :(

March 1, 2011
Click to view macuy's profile


American: Your car is foreign. Your vodka is Russian. Your watch Swiss. Your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish. Your democracy is Greek. Your coffee is Brazilian. Your movies English. Your tea is Tamil. Your shirt is Indian. Your oil from Asia; your electronics are Chinese. Your numbers Arabic, your letters Latin.

March 2, 2011
Click to view GovWatts's profile

Hey CNN: On the survey, you misspelled atheist and separate. You wrote "athiest" and "seperate." Please use spellcheck.

March 2, 2011
Click to view KCRep's profile

I've noticed almost everyone doing the handwriting assignment is printing instead of writing, when did schools stop teaching longhand?

March 2, 2011
Click to view rachel8's profile

@Mangum - I'm sorry you got stuck on the marital status question. The reason we formulated the question that way is because that's the language that's used on the U.S. census and American Community Survey (an offshoot of the census). We need our data to match up with theirs so that everything is sortable in our database.


Please note that only the first three questions of the survey are required. If you feel like any of the other questions (including marital status) don't apply to you or you don't fit into any of the listed categories, please feel free to skip them.

March 4, 2011
Click to view JoyfulGypsy's profile

The sentence in the "Write this down" section should actually read...


The quick brown fox jumps (not jumpED) over the lazy dog.  Otherwise, it's missing the letter S and does not contain every letter in the alphabet.


Do all of us that already submitted a handwriting sample need to do it over?

March 7, 2011
Click to view rachel8's profile

@Joyful Eek! You're right! Thanks for pointing that out - it's fixed now.


I don't think everyone needs to re-submit...it's not a huge deal, right? We can still get an idea of what your handwriting looks like. Of course, you're welcome to do another one, if you'd like.

March 8, 2011
Click to view HarryWales's profile

Are you accepting contributions from non Americans (who heard about this on CNN International)?

March 14, 2011
Click to view rachel8's profile

@HarryWales Yes, we'd love to hear from you! Submissions from outside the U.S. won't appear on our U.S. map, obviously, but we can still use them for stories.

April 11, 2011
Click to view acapicchioni's profile

What can I be considered? I live in Miami and in Italy.I grew up in new York and  now I live in Miami and in San Marno Italy where I have my parents. I am  a resident of the USA and my husband is an American citizen.

Ciao Annamaria

May 17, 2011
Click to view rachel8's profile

@acapicchioni If you're a U.S. resident, you're counted in the census. So yes, please submit to our project! You'll show up on the map as living in Miami.

May 20, 2011
Click to view DavidMcLane's profile

OK, I'm up for it. I just finished writing up a report titled "Am I an American?" which is partly so (born spend the first 35 years in the U.S.A.) and party not (spend 12 years on the road + 18 in Japan). Now living in a small town in Arizona. Hmmmm....

May 30, 2011
Click to view DCajk's profile

I got stuck on the question "Which State is that in?" since Washington, DC is not "in" any state.  So how are DC residents to respond?

May 31, 2011
Click to view rachel8's profile

@DCajk Just enter DC where you'd enter the state name. :)

May 31, 2011
Click to view hippediva's profile

Seriously?  You're just inviting identity theft!

May 31, 2011
Click to view Dolce21's profile

What is up with these questions, they are too much info that I would want to give, and then you as the media do edit it to your liking. NO THANK YOU

May 31, 2011
Click to view taylordab's profile

I like the idea of this but what's with the questionnaire? No option to choose a domestic partnership? No mutiracial or option to choose more than one race? Not incredibly accurate...

May 31, 2011
Click to view vikingviking's profile

like the us census meaningless - you cannot put people into neat little package.  i'm a single WASP female with US adopted and foster kids - all of which are multi-racial and of different religions. the only common denominator in our lives is love.  i still fail to see how our ethnicity, religion and "familial' relationship is relevant to our town, state receiving funding, services.

May 31, 2011
Click to view aviationeast's profile

Why is there never any "American" Ethinicity identity? I am 3rd generation "Native American" (otherwise stated as natural born US citizen) on my father's side. I have everything from German, and Norwiegen, to Cherokee and African American in me. I do not fall under any ethinicity, not even causasian, though I do look it. I am sick and tired of people thinking I am white. I am American, that is my ethnicity. Nothing else will satisfy, there is an American culture: a mix of all of our citizens, and as time goes on it is becoming more and more of a melting pot. I take pride in being able to call myself american, and while I have some ties to various other ethinicities, my culture remains American.

May 31, 2011
Click to view MRSierras's profile

I am a Resident Alien, so not a Citizen. But I started thinking of myself as an American. Why? I see being American as a state of mind. I have been here for over eight years and cannot vote, but I pay taxes and I do care about local and state politics and I care about things that happen in Washington. More than some Citizens I know. I was also counted in the Census. There is an option that says "Don't vote/Apathetic". I suggest making this one option two separate options. Thank you.

May 31, 2011
Click to view mab91c's profile

Completed. You know, people, no survey of any kind could possibly give everyone all the possible choices they'd like so it's really pretty simple - answer to the best of your ability. It's really not rocket science, is it?

May 31, 2011
Click to view elfkat's profile

Yet again, not counting GLBT community no matter how you excuse your question formulation and there are many other large kinds of paganism besides Wicca like Druids.

May 31, 2011
Click to view zingers's profile

i want to move the presidential election up to this fall and get obama out of the white house before the whole country collapses...

May 31, 2011
Click to view Jiggerj's profile

One more question for the people taking this survey: Are you participating because you really want to help define America, or are you SO self centered that you think the survey just won't be complete without your personal input?

May 31, 2011
Click to view dsashin's profile

As Rachel noted in the comments above, only the first three questions of the survey are required. If you feel like any of the other questions don't apply to you, you don't feel comfortable answering, or you don't fit into any of the listed categories, please feel free to skip them!

May 31, 2011
Click to view DMichael's profile

How can anyone expect to "define" a country with so much diversity?  I can only define what I would like to see happen that, to my mind, would revive America's culturalism.  We have become a country of instant success (or failure, usually followed by bigger success), American Idol which relies on how fast and how often one can dial a phone number to vote for a favorite, usually not based on talent, and a country with the attention span of -- well, any insect on the planet you can name.  As a classical musician, I was raised in the 50's, 60's and 70's when the Beatles made their appearance, when America could support multi-cultural events, Elvis in Las Vegas or the Metropolitan Opera on tour.  Of course, Elvis has been replaced by Celine Dion, not bad, and Met Opera has been reduced to touring anywhere BUT the US.  Symphony orchestras are going bankrupt because kids no longer have access to their music during the day.  They have gangsta' rap, music with words that should never be repeated in front of children or they have the aforementioned American Idol and now The Voice, which basically are mirror images of one another.  We have become a country of the more rich and the more poor with nothing in the middle.  Parents no longer "raise" their kids.  They barely tolerate them.  Those who are rich continue their avoidance of paying taxes and those who are poor are saddled with the costs of the rich remaining that way. How does this relate to classical music, and indeed all the arts, in the schools?  Kids could be creative.  Kids had real music to listen to and talk about and grow up with and share with their kids.  This no longer exists and the "culture" of America is basically non-existent.  Vote for whomever you want, bitch and moan about everything the other guy does, but remember, we have allowed ourselves to fall into this abyss by not continuing to develop our culture.  At this point, I can only define America as basically ignorant, unsophisticated, illiterate, argumentative and selfish.

May 31, 2011
Click to view LarryHoover's profile

hate hate hate

May 31, 2011
Click to view GaryJH's profile

What I find most interesting about these surveys is what they infer from our answers. As if all "single, never married" people are the same, or all people in their 40's (30's, 50's, etc.) are all the same. Ok, so now you know my most basic demographic information, you still don't KNOW who I am.

May 31, 2011
Click to view shyboy69's profile

It's important to understand that the people who talk about "hate" all the time are the REAL haters. What they hate is America/Whites/Christians/capitalism. Their solution is to bring in as many immigrants as possible and dilute the culture they hate so much into oblivion. The haters of which they speak are actually people who LOVE their own culture, their own country THE WAY IT IS. Somehow this majority view was trumped by a minority of leftwing activists, whose hate for the status quo and whose underhanded techniques were not anticipated or fought badly enough. A fight was going on, but the majority of Americans were oblivious. Those who realized it were ignored or worse, demonized. The end to this phase of the war is coming, because most Americans are realizing what is going on now. The left won't have the luxury of sneak attack from here on out.

May 31, 2011
Click to view RVenger's profile

Magnum, those are the only legitimate categories there are.

June 1, 2011
Click to view sqrlzmom's profile

@Mangum - too bad we can't queer up the survey the way many of us did with the census paperwork.


A survey is supposed to include personal insight on the person filling it out. How can you exclude a category of marital status that is at the forefront of social awareness right now - whether you agree with it or not. And since several states recognize non-traditional marriages, it should be included.

June 11, 2011
Click to view Newam1's profile

America is changing. Baseball attendance is lower and peanut butter sales are down. First and second generation coastal US citizens are finding it increasingly difficult to identify with midwesterners. We have very little in common.

July 14, 2011
Click to view kayaksam's profile

For all the cutting Congress is demanding are they willing to eliminate their health benefits and go under the more affordable MEDICARE? How about holding off on all Congressional pay raises until Election Time when the American Voter can vote on any pay raise? Think Not. Go ahead demand your Congressman agree to the aforementioned and see where you get! This country may in deed be headed to the dustbin of history.

September 15, 2011
Click to view algia's profile



This is the "Culture Definition":


   [kuhl-cher] Show IPA noun, verb, -tured, -tur·ing.



the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.


that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.


a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.


development or improvement of the mind by education or training.


the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.



Dinner? are you serious?

September 15, 2011
Click to view algia's profile

What's to define anymore?

Fattest country in the world

The word: "Moderation" has been removed from USA dictionaries...

The Motorized Cart industry RULES!

All the money is trapped in a few wallets who are not spending anything to "HELP" the "Economy"

We're supposed to believe we're not qualified, when in fact we're flat out discriminated by employers only to put us in more student debt...only to be told after that to "start somewhere" on 20k when half a day of daycare is $212 a WEEK!

Middle class is gone...

Greedy lenders

Greedy Insurance companies

UNAFFORDABLE insurance everywhere

Dentists act like car salesman offering quotes from $15,000 to $30,000 to the unemployed

Our so called "Politicians" think people LIKE to sit unemployed and get $200 bucks when the mortgage is $2000!!!!!!!! SURE, That what ppl want!!!!!!!!!

Welfare goes to people who don't need it and are flat out lazy!


Should I go on?

October 2, 2011
Click to view labrat67's profile

It's interesting to me that those of Western European descent are just "white", but there are many different categories for any different skin tone. Fairer complexions do not imply uniformity in culture or outlook. Sure, I identify myself as an American rather than by my ancestors, but others maintain family traditions handed down from those who immigrated from different parts of Europe.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

About the iReport Blog

The latest and greatest on CNN iReport, brought to you by Team iReport.

Categories Recent posts Monthly Subscribe