Rebecca Blumenstein, recipient of the 2015 Lawrence Minard Editor Award, says that if she had not entered journalism, she would have liked to be a rabbi or a nurse. But as a reporter and editor at the Journal for 20 years, colleagues say she has been both.
Blumenstein seldom uses the singular pronoun when describing her work. "I learned very early that you can get a lot more accomplished with others than on your own, "says the 48-year-old deputy editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal. Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker says he backed Blumenstein's nomination because "she has a unique set of editing skills that stand her apart from virtually all journalists I work with: tenacity, an absolute determination to get the story and get it right, virtually whatever the circumstances; empathy, an ability to understand and motivate reporters and get the best out of them even when they feel they have spent their last effort." Other colleagues testify to her success: Deborah Solomon, who more than a decade ago worked for Blumenstein as a telecom reporter, credits her for help in managing a whistleblower in the WorldCom accounting fraud who got cold feet. Blumenstein directed her to "hold his hand until he trusts you," she recalls. "Some days I spent more time talking to the source than my husband." Executive Editor Almar Latour, who was also a reporter in the group, says Blumenstein was present for many late-night gigs as chief of the telecommunication and technology group. Her team landed multiple scoops during the trial of former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers by developing a collaborative way of debriefing jurors during the trial. "She is the kind of boss who is not just there for you but there with you," he says. In 2003, the Journal won the Gerald Loeb Award for the coverage of the WorldCom accounting fraud case. Later, when Solomon had her second child, Blumenstein, a mother of three, counseled her that it was okay to step back and focus on her family for a bit. "She was my Sherpa and helped me figure out how to write a front-page story for The Wall Street Journal and so much else," says Solomon, now an editor for the Journal in Washington. "She wants to bring out the best in a reporter, which is somewhat unusual, as it's a competitive business." Growing up in Michigan as the oldest of five girls honed Blumenstein's people skills. She was - and remains - the family peacemaker. Blumenstein earned a bachelor's degree in economics and social science from the University of Michigan and was the editor in chief of her college paper. While in school she met her future husband, Alan Paul, who says that apart from being an award-winning journalist, his wife is also a fearsome pool shark. "I've had some great times in seedy bars watching her crush big macho men... One time in Ottawa, Canada, stands out," says Paul. She began her career at the Tampa Tribune and went on to work at various news organizations, including Newsday. In 1993, she picked up an award for her coverage of the aftermath of the Long Island Railroad shooting. She joined the Journal in 1995 as a General Motors reporter based in Detroit. In 2005, she and her young family took a big risk when she raised her hand to be China bureau chief. "Rebecca didn't speak Chinese, "had no China background and, for all I knew, had never been to China," says John Bussey, who was the editor overseeing Asia for the Journal. After a lengthy interview process that included questions about her high school English teacher, Blumenstein was offered the position based on her "strong reputation as an editor and leader of reporters," says Bussey. China transformed her, opening her to a new world of events and possibilities, from the trivial - like the time in western China when she first sampled a local delicacy: "I had Yak butter and it made me nauseous," she recalls - to the profound, as in 2009, when she was the first foreign journalist called to ask Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao a question during his annual press conference watched by tens of millions of viewers. Soon after Blumenstein arrived in China several veteran reporters left the bureau for unrelated reasons and she had to scramble to hire new people and help them through the difficulties in getting the China story right. Jason Dean was one of the new recruits brought in from Taiwan who benefited from Blumenstein's ability to instill confidence in her reporters. "When I was laboring on a story about China's telecom industry early in her tenure, she forced me to just sit down and write it, saying, 'You already know this better than you realize,'" says Dean, now the Journal's Chicago bureau chief. Similarly, Blumenstein saw the potential in Carolyn Cui, a local hire and translator, who went on to become a Journal commodities reporter. Cui recalls how she once got immediate feedback on a story about the Chinese stock market. "She basically turned back the copy in an hour and she was the bureau chief. It was amazing that the she had the time," says Cui, who, at Blumenstein's urging, applied to and was accepted into the journalism program at Columbia University. Blumenstein didn't actually have the time; she simply burned the candle at both ends. "They were good reporters and I knew that they could, but there were a lot of versions of these stories that went back and forth, but a lot of it was done late at night," says Blumenstein, who would often stay up until one or two in the morning editing and answering calls from U.S. headquarters. The competition also kept her up. At home, Blumenstein's windows faced the apartment of a New York Times correspondent, so she never rested while her competition was awake. "I would see him burning the midnight oil, which would drive me bananas because when he was up I wanted to know what he was working on," she says. In 2007, Blumenstein's team won the Pulitzer Prize for a series that chronicled the social and environmental consequences of China's rapid industrialization. Through it all her staff there remembers her for her support and calm leadership. "You always felt that she was listening to you ... as a person, even if she disagreed with you," says Kathy Chen, a friend and colleague who served as the deputy China bureau chief with Blumenstein. Blumenstein's China experience has made her a champion of that experience for others, as well as an example. "I think it was the best thing I ever did," she says. "Going abroad - for women, it's a great move." In the six years since she returned to New York, Blumenstein has held a series of increasingly important jobs - including foreign editor, head of wsj.com and, since 2013, deputy editor-in-chief - in which her achievements include overseeing expansion of the Journal's technology coverage. Her rapid ascent invites some colleagues to make historical comparisons. "Well, we're still trying to figure whether she's like Xie Jinping or Deng Xiao Ping," says News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson. "Both of them were revolutionaries as Rebecca is a revolutionary. But maybe more like Deng, she's a quiet revolutionary." "She's taller than Deng Xiao Ping," he adds. "And like the good bits of Deng, she's been able to challenge convention, she's been creative and she's been brave."