Rebecca Blumenstein – Deputy Managing Editor, The Wall Street Journal
Come meet the editor of The Wall Street Journal LIVE in NYC this Friday – she’s moderating the PINK event!
When the World is Beckoning
By Caroline Cox
Rebecca Blumenstein, 44, has come a long way from editing the school newspaper in her small hometown in Michigan. Her early passion for writing successfully carried her from college newspaper editor-in-chief to a few other publications before leading her to her current role as deputy managing editor of the Wall Street Journal.
As deputy managing editor in charge of foreign, money and investing, Blumenstein manages a team that spans the globe (more than 50 percent of the deputy editors at WSJ are female). She was also named to the Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown Fellowship in March 2009.
While she helped America’s largest newspaper – with an average digital and print circulation of more than 2 million a day – win one of their 34 Pulitzer Prize while working overseas in China, Blumenstein says she’s not in it for the awards. In fact, she measures success not by trophies and accolades, but by bringing the world news that opens people’s eyes – and being able to tuck her kids in at the end of the day.
Blumenstein talks to PINK about the advantages of working abroad, how women can have it all and her plans to get WSJ another Pulitzer Prize.
PINK: What’s your success secret?
Rebecca Blumenstein: I was lucky enough to know what I wanted to do at a young age. I always knew I wanted to be a reporter, so I spent a lot of time working at my college newspaper at the University of Michigan. I was elected editor of the paper and I did internships. After that, I was able to get a job. Another [secret] is to not be afraid to roll your sleeves up and work hard. I’ve learned the best way to lead is by example. You don’t need to do much more than that.
PINK: Tell me about a time you had to “roll up your sleeves.”
RB: When I was working in China [from 2005 to 2008] as an editor for The Wall Street Journal, there were many nights when I would stay up late and get up early to gather and push stories for my reporters. In turn, that engendered a lot of loyalty on behalf of the reporters who wanted to work hard. As a part of the team, it was my job to fight for their stories.
PINK: What’s the biggest issue professional women face today?
RB: There’s this feeling that women can’t do it all, and I would like to humbly submit that I disagree. It’s important for women to not give up their places in the workforce entirely. I fully respect women who decide to stay home, but there’s so much pressure for women to be perfect moms that they don’t hear enough of the other side – where you can work and be a really good mom. Women have so much to contribute, and we don’t hear enough about the advantages of work and the impact they can make.
PINK: What are your thoughts on Life/Work balance?
RB: I have three children: Anna, 7, Eli, 10 and Jacob, 13. In many ways, having children is the best thing I ever did because it forces balance in my life. If I didn’t have children, I would work constantly. Balance is important, because if you don’t have it you can’t think, you can’t speak, you can’t have the big thought or idea. It’s also important to have a supportive partner who can help you. If you have the right partner, you are offered more flexibility and options than ever before.
PINK: How to you balance the two?
RB: People have said I’m good at compartmentalizing. When I’m with my kids I try to be 100 percent with them, even if it’s just for half an hour at night. I travel a lot with my job, but I’m there most mornings to get them off to school. It’s a challenge, but it’s something I’m always trying to do.
PINK: How has your husband made balance easier?
RB: One of the reasons I’ve been able to do what I do is because my husband (award-winning journalist and author Alan Paul) worked from home. He just wrote a book about our time in China, called Big in China, about being a “trailing spouse.” We have an untraditional balance: I go off to work everyday and he stays at home. It’s more common in the U.S. than in China because they’re generally moving for the man’s job, not the woman’s. This is an issue that a lot of families are going to face because, in order to do well in companies these days, it’s important to move abroad. You have to have a relationship in which your partner supports you doing that.
PINK: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
RB: To “follow the money.” I started out in the news business covering politics and breaking news, and I was interested in welfare and inequality. I took a college class where we studied economic incentives that resulted in decisions and behaviors around the world, and that was very eye opening. Years later, in our foreign coverage, I realized the key to understanding something is to look at the economic incentives and issues hanging over any situation. Oftentimes, if you follow the money, you understand what’s happening a lot more deeply.
PINK: How big is your team?
RB: I’m the deputy managing editor in charge of foreign, money and investing, so I directly supervise about 20 bureau chiefs around the world, plus our money and investing section. I probably supervise about 25 managers directly, but the coverage is run by 150 to 200 people globally. I’m ultimately responsible for the foreign and the money investment for the paper.
PINK: What’s your biggest weakness as a leader?
RB: I don’t like to have difficult conversations – they take a little chunk out of me. Some people say that’s a good thing, but I still don’t like it; it’s something I really hate to do. I’ve become better at it though. I’ve realized you can’t put them off – it’s better to just address them.
PINK: What about your background has resulted in your choices and success today?
RB: I’m from a small town in the middle of Michigan, and my desire to leave there and realize there was a big world out there was pretty profound. I had an English teacher in high school who helped me a lot. We only had one AP course in our high school, and it was English. I’m confident that if she hadn’t been my teacher and had not been as rigorous, I would not be the person I am today. Coming from a small town, either you want to get out or stay in, and I wanted to get out. I knew the world was beckoning, and I wanted to do whatever I could to see it.
PINK: How do you relax?
RB: I love traveling. Even when we lived in China, it felt like everyday was an adventure. I recently started doing morning yoga, which has really helped me through these busy months. Admittedly, I’m not a good sitter – I tend to be pretty busy, and I like that. I also enjoy little errands, like going to get shoes with my kids and grocery shopping on the weekends.
PINK: What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
RB: I have four sisters. My mom had a baby when I was a senior in high school, and it was quite a trying moment for me. It was embarrassing at the time, but out of all my sisters, I’m closest with her now.
PINK: What’s one goal you still want to achieve?
RB: I’d like to help our paper win another Pulitzer Prize. We haven’t won one in a while, and we came close this year. I like playing a role in significant stories and I’d love to continue being part of that – I want to continue to build on my success to have an impact. By exposing things through journalism, we can show people things they haven’t seen before and explain the world in new ways. When I was with the China Bureau in 2007, we won the Pulitzer Prize. It’s not that we do journalism to win prizes, but we’ve done work that’s really good, and I want to keep doing that.
PINK: How do you define success?
RB: I believe strongly that many people have given me chances along the away, and I want to work hard to make the best of them. I have such an incredible job – to help translate the world to our readers through America’s largest paper – and I need to work as hard as I can to succeed. But I also have a family, and balancing the two is something I am proud of and something that has made me a better person and a better journalist. I’m pretty happy being in the thick of it. Lots of women can do this; it’s not as hard as one might think.
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