Rebecca Blumenstein was editor in chief of The Michigan Daily during her last year on staff while at the University. Today, she is deputy editor in chief at The Wall Street Journal. She started her time at the Journal in Detroit in 1995 before becoming the Journal’s China bureau chief from 2005 to 2009. There, she led the team that won the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting in 2007.

Q: What was your experience like working for the Daily and what about it do you think was unique?

When I walked into the Daily, I didn’t know how to write a headline, I didn’t know how to write a news story, but I was taught by editors who were fellow students and it was a remarkable training ground for journalism. It really worked. My first story I remember was about paisley and how it was coming back into fashion, which is kind of embarrassing. But I liked news, and kind of began covering things around campus. It was also a very tumultuous time on campus. There were some pretty ugly racial incidents, and the administration proposed a code of conduct for racial speech that became very controversial, even at the Daily, because people obviously wanted to do something to stem any racial incidents and punish those who were guilty of that, but there’s such a long tradition of free speech at the Daily, so that was a really interesting moment, and in retrospect Michigan was one of the first campuses to go through anything like that, which is still continuing in many ways.

The most amazing thing about the Daily — I also met my husband there — was how much you could grow and learn how to do things while working with your peers. I never took a journalism class and I think it’s better that way because you can’t rely on anyone else, you have to do it yourself. The editors were pretty demanding and you worked your way up to other possibilities as you proved yourself. It was a place of excitement; I don’t think my parents understood why I was spending so much time at the Daily instead of on my academic work. I think in retrospect that’s one of the best parts of the Daily, that it is independent of the University and you get out of it what you put into it.

Q: So because, as you said, the Daily is completely separate from academic work at the University, how did you balance those two aspects of your life and how has that balancing act benefited your career?

A: I didn’t sleep much. I took a more-than-full course load, which in retrospect was silly, and I also chose to double major in Econ and Political Science through the (Residential College) and I took a class there, “Economics of Inequality,” that really changed my life. I didn’t make it easy on myself — I would meet friends at the Brown Jug at midnight — but something about being young and not needing to sleep much helped. I didn’t get grades that were always as good as they could have been. It was good training for life afterwards, and more broadly Michigan is a place where you never know where a class will lead you. It was a very stimulating place and I wanted to make the most of it. The advantage of knowing early on what I wanted to do was a big one — I had internships and after college it was hard in the job climate, but I found an internship in New York City. After doing the Daily as intensely as I did, I knew how to burn the midnight oil, and it was messy sometimes, but I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Classes helped me understand things at a level deeper that were really important to me. I had a big interest in current affairs and the discipline of the RC and Political Science was useful to me. It evolved along the way and it wasn’t deliberate, but it helped a light bulb go on when I found something I was really interested in.

Q: What advice would you give to current Daily staffers and recent graduates?

A: I would say that you have the advantage and disadvantage of being kind of on your own. You have to get an internship and have the clips and the experience and keep building from that. It has changed a little as journalism has changed because there are fewer smaller publications that offer internships in the way that there were when I was doing it, but there are still quite a few. It’s important to become a bit of a news junkie. It’s helped that I’ve known how to cover news stories, talk to people dealing with tragedies, and just being comfortable reporting on a range of things and hopefully getting the reporting and writing skills. It’s harder than ever to be a reporter and I think you should find a couple of things you are good at — social media, video, data journalism … I think the younger generation has a lot to bring to journalism because they are a lot more fluent in these things than some of us here are. It’s also just really important to learn the basics. Also, be open to going abroad.

Q: You’ve had a variety of internships and positions at different publications over the years — in places ranging from China to Florida to New York City. What guided you as you made those career decisions that ultimately landed you your current position as deputy editor in chief at The Wall Street Journal?

A: I am from a pretty small town in Michigan and I always wanted to work in a big newsroom where there were people who really believed in the work they were doing, kind of like the Daily was for me. There were some situations where it was clear I had learned as much as I was going to and it was time to move on. So as far as working at the Journal, it’s just been a very stimulating place to be from the moment I walked in. I am always amazed by the level of discussion and challenge here, and the nice thing about being at a news organization is that I’ve had a variety of different jobs, but I’ve stayed at this same news organization for 20 years. I moved around a lot at first and now I have moved around a lot within the Journal, but I’m able to do a variety of do things and I think that’s helped me

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Daily or to staffers that we haven’t touched on yet?

A: I would just say, I think for yourself and for women sometimes the message from afar is that you can’t do it, you can’t have a family and a career, and I think there are a lot of people that can do it, and I worry that sometimes the message is too negative for young women. Journalism can be very intense, but it can also be flexible and technology allows you to work from anywhere. I don’t care where people work from, in a lot of days and weeks it doesn’t matter where you do your work or when you do it, as long as you are committed and good at your craft I think there are all sorts of ways you can keep going. There is a world of possibilities and I am distressed by the message that you can’t do it.

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