by Saabira Chaudhuri
At 44, Rebecca Blumenstein looks unexpectedly young to be the deputy managing editor and international editor for the Wall Street Journal. Her 16-year-long rise at the paper—from a reporter covering General Motors to her current position—has its origins in a penchant for news and the written word that developed at an early age.
“I always knew what I wanted to do,” says Ms. Blumenstein. “I was very interested in the news and newspapers. My parents always got the Wall Street Journal and I would read it but it was very hard because it didn’t have pictures in it.”
Contrary to the existential meandering expected from 20-something new college graduates, Ms. Blumenstein had no trouble charting her career path after she graduated from the University of Michigan.
She went from being editor in chief of the University’s student daily—which had a circulation of about 40,000—to working as a full-time journalist at the Tampa Tribune in Florida.
She later worked at Gannett Newspapers and Newsday, and joined the Wall Street Journal’ s Detroit bureau in 1995.
“Part of what helped me get hired at the Journal is I was putting my hand up to work in Michigan when nobody else really wanted to,” recalls Ms. Blumenstein, who hails from a small auto town outside Michigan called Essexville.
Since then, she’s held a variety of positions within the Journal, as a reporter covering telecommunications, chief of the paper’s technology section in New York, chief of the China bureau, and managing editor of the Wall Street Journal online.
Before her 2005 move to China with her three young children and her husband, Ms. Blumenstein had only lived outside the United States for one year in Israel after high school. She didn’t know any Mandarin or Cantonese and had never even visited China before she flew over to see if she could work there.
“They took a risk sending me to China,” says Ms. Blumenstein. “I had been increasingly interested in globalization. The job came open and they didn’t have a natural candidate so I put my hand up.”
Putting her hand up seems to have worked pretty well. During her three-and-a-half year stint in China, the paper won a Pulitzer Prize for a 2006 series they did called “China’s Naked Capitalism” and a Polk award for coverage of the environmental problems at the country’s Three Gorges Dam. Ms. Blumenstein also supervised coverage of the Beijing Olympics and the Sichuan earthquake.
While there were the inevitable cultural differences—“the first few weeks in China seemed liked a year,” recalls Ms. Blumenstein—life was, in many ways, easier than in New York.
“Living in China as a working woman is perhaps the best kept secret,” says Ms.Blumenstein. “In Beijing I would come home and the house would be spotless, dinner would be on the table. I didn’t do much laundry.”
Ms. Blumenstein says that she and her husband—who went on to write a book about being an expatriate in China called Big in China—particularly enjoyed socializing in Beijing, where people meet more spontaneously than in the US. “I liked that balance of working hard and playing hard,” she says.
Now back in New York, juggling a demanding career as the mother of three young children sometimes catapults her life into chaos, says Ms. Blumenstein. However, she calls having children a “ saving grace,” forcing perspective and a balance in her life. She also candidly admits that she’ s lucky to have a supportive, stay-at-home husband in Mr. Paul.
“We believe very strongly that our marriage is a partnership. I’m more ‘type A,’ he’s a bit more ‘type C,’” she reflects. He’ s happy to wake up and listen to music and write, while I thrive by going to work and seeing people.”
While day-to-day life in New York isn’t as exciting as in China, Ms. Blumenstein says she’s challenged by her role and is focused on driving great stories under her leadership at the Wall Street Journal – particularly those that speak to international issues.
“I want to supervise coverage that changes the world and makes an impact,” she says. “Globalization is biggest story of our time and we need to be looking at it very critically. The world is tilting east and those who understand that are in a good position.”
Rebecca Blumenstein is the keynote speaker at this year's SAJA's Convention and the recepient of the 2011 SAJA Leadership Award.