Renee L. Ernst Producer, Social Publishing CNN
The story of how I went from a sheltered Hawai’i island girl to a producer on CNN’s social media team in New York City is an interesting one.
Growing up in Hawai’i has provided me with the unique experience of being raised in a culturally diverse environment that may be a part of the U.S., but certainly has its own identity. From a young age I have been interested in writing. An avid reader, I used to get in trouble for reading at the dinner table. This naturally led to a passion to look into writing. Realizing journalism was an outlet to pursue that passion, I remember making a newsletter for my little neighborhood.
Once I got to high school in my teen years, I joined the school newspaper for the next four years. After two years of college in Hawai’i working for the student newspaper, I wanted to go as far away as possible while still remaining in the U.S. to expose myself to other cultures and I knew media had a strong presence in the northeast. I chose New Jersey – in between Philadelphia and New York City. In my last semester of university, I got an internship with Gannett and my career was launched. From there I got a job near the Jersey shore as a newsroom clerk, was quickly promoted to web producer and staff writer before ending my time at The Asbury Park Press as a breaking news reporter. I left for Texas in pursuit of a Master’s degree in criminal justice. After two years, I went back to New Jersey as a web producer for a different company in the northern part of the state. I was quickly promoted to social media editor because of my high interest in growing our digital audience.
This is where the story gets fun. One of the first weeks I was in that role, news about then NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s staffers causing major traffic issues for people in a town who’s mayor did not endorse a reelection for Christie started circulating. My newspaper was the first to pick the story up. Our dogged local journalism and traffic columnist caught the story before anyone else. This was huge news. It ended up resulting in many firings and jail time for more than one staffer. It never got traced back to the governor. When the newsroom initially got wind of the story, their idea was to break it in print. Over the course of a few hours and with the backing of my then boss, I convinced very old, wise and scary leaders at the newspaper that this needs to be broken on social media, namely Twitter and Facebook. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, but it came with major rewards.
The story was picked up the coverage was inevitable nominated for a pulitzer. After it gained such major national coverage, Facebook reached out to me to run beta projects with our reporters, Twitter asked me who I wanted verified from my newspaper. It seemed I had unlocked some level of social media stardom. Not long after all of that I was recruited to The Huffington Post. After a year there, I was contacted by my current executive producer about a job at CNN. You can fill in the rest there. I have been happily serving as part of a dynamic team for the past three+ years and couldn’t be more proud of my team. Look out for us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.