The Soft Power of Rena Golden

by Michael Schulder

Think of an executive you can't imagine saying no to.

Not the kind of executive who elicits the yes through fear or leverage or deference to the job title.

The kind who really makes you want to say yes.

That is what Rena Golden managed to accomplish with just about everyone in her giant orbit at CNN.

I began working with Rena at CNN more than two decades ago.  I was writing for the show she produced. 

They were particularly fast paced, relentless days at CNN in the early days.  As soon as you'd finish writing for one show, the next show's rundown would come out -- and then another.  Every two hours another list of stories  -- until the day - or night - was over.


Bing. Bang.  Boom.


Rena  would print out the rundown of stories for her show, approach each writer with their assignments, bend down ever so slightly,  and calmly explain what stories we had to write and WHY she chose them.  Seems basic.  Other show producers followed the same routine.   But when Rena did it the process seemed so unrushed.  Digestible.

Such a long time ago.  Such a deep, lasting impression.

Rena never raised her voice that I know of.

But she was always, in the term of this day, "leaning in."

Can anyone at CNN remember being in a meeting with Rena, large or small, where she failed to ask a thought provoking question?  If so - please leave a comment below because it will be news.

One reason I and others were so eager to say yes - to collaborate with Rena -- was her eagerness to say yes to us - to empower us, her colleagues and friends.

I have my own examples - including an in depth profile I was dying to do of an unknown pianist from a poor family in China who was just beginning to make waves.    I got a lot of no's.  Nobody had ever heard of Lang Lang.

Neither had Rena.  But she listened to the pitch (always those open ears and open mind.).  Her eyes lit up.  She freed up two crews - and enabled CNN to beat 60 Minutes on Lang Lang by a few years.

I know many of you can fill the comments section below with your own specific examples of Rena's editorial and moral  compass. 

One would expect that from a person so many people describe as a mentor. 

Rena was driven to succeed.  Driven by curiosity.

I scanned her Facebook page and noticed an entry in the final months of her battle against the  recurrence of cancer.

" I love lazy Sundays!  Just relaxing watching a couple of TED Talks on my iPhone.  One of my fave apps!  Always learn something fascinating."

I could go on about the impressions I have of Rena Golden, which date back to before her wedding with a man of soft power, Rob Golden. 

I really don't want to stop writing about Rena, because somehow if I stop writing it really feels like the end.

But moments ago I bumped into one of Rena's executive colleagues from CNN.COM who told me something that makes it possible to end this without ending it.

As  he reflected, a warm and somewhat longing smile came over his face.  "I have all fond memories of Rena," he said. "Most of them laughing."