After a long and storied career in journalism, Rebecca Blumenstein is transitioning into a top leadership position as deputy editor in the publisher’s office at the New York Times.
Michigan-born reporter and editor Rebecca Blumenstein is stepping into a new role. After a long and storied career in journalism that has taken her from Newsday to the Wall Street Journal, Blumenstein, who grew up in Essexville outside of Bay City, is transitioning into a top leadership position as deputy editor in the publisher’s office at the New York Times.
Blumenstein, 54, of Maplewood, N.J., is a University of Michigan alumna and previously served as Michigan president of Young Judaea, a peer-led Zionist youth movement with programs throughout the U.S. Now, after four years at the Times growing their newsroom and coverage, Blumenstein is ready to embark on a new chapter. The Jewish News spoke to her about the transition, her goals in her new role and building a career at the historic publication.
Can you tell us about your 2017 transition to the Times?
My first job when I arrived at the Times was to reinvigorate and elevate our business coverage. The Times had a long tradition of great investigative business journalism, but it was not enough of a daily must-read. I hired Ellen Pollock, the former editor of Business Week, to be the business editor, and we significantly expanded our team, particularly in Silicon Valley and Washington. ‘Business’ is now one of the biggest staffs at the Times and because of our traditional strength in politics, we are uniquely suited to cover the increasing number of stories and issues at the intersection of business and politics.
From there, I took a role managing the digital news desk, which runs the website and NYT app 24/7 around the world. We saw historic gains in readership as we increased our news metabolism and launched more live, continuously updated briefings during major news events.
During the relentless news cycle of 2020, with the pandemic, the unrest following the death of George Floyd and the presidential election, I headed a major expansion of our live coverage. As a deputy managing editor, I am part of the masthead of the Times and weigh in on other issues facing the organization.
I am also head of NYT’s events, which have completely shifted to remote formats during the pandemic, which has allowed us to reach bigger audiences than ever before.
What are some memorable stories your newsroom has worked on during the past few years that you’re particularly proud of?
We have led the way in writing about how technology and the increasing influence of the tech giants is reshaping our world. From the sexual harassment issues at Uber under Travis Kalanick to the spread of misinformation, the Times is a leader in the highly competitive coverage of technology.
During the election, we developed a feature called “Daily Distortions” that debunked highly misleading and viral information. Because of the Times’ authority on search, our reporting outranked that of the misinformation on issues like the incorrect reports of problems with Dominion voting machines.
I’m also proud of our breaking news operation. We are aiming to be the most trustworthy destination for breaking news, and with a newsroom of 1,700 reporters and editors around the world, we can do more original reporting in more places than almost any other news organization.
I must add that a story that is particularly memorable is a rare one that I wrote — a look at the changing politics and economics of my hometown, Bay City, which flipped from a Democratic stronghold to support Trump in 2016 and again in 2020.
Can you tell us about your new role with the Publisher’s Office?
I recently stepped away from the newsroom to take on a role as deputy editor in the Publisher’s Office. A.G. Sulzberger, who took over as the paper’s publisher in 2018, needed someone to work as his day-to-day partner, especially when he took on the additional role of chairman of the board of the Times earlier this year. I am helping A.G. on a range of issues, from our plans to return to the office to how to improve our workplace and our culture.
I will chair a newly formed committee of newsroom leaders who will evaluate every request for outside projects, from TV gigs to book and movie leaves. Times reporters are getting increasingly approached for such work, as they are often the first ones to find stories. But we need to be consistent in how we decide who gets to do what, which wasn’t always the case.
Last year, a Times op-ed editor and writer, Bari Weiss, resigned, claiming a cancel culture for NYT journalists who deviate from “progressive” orthodoxy. Also, she alleged bullying and harassment from fellow employees, including criticism for “writing about the Jews again.” How is the NYT responding to these allegations?
We appreciate the many contributions that Bari made to Times Opinion. I’m personally committed to ensuring that the Times continues to publish voices, experiences and viewpoints from across the political spectrum in the Opinion report. We see every day how impactful and important that approach is, especially through the outsized influence the Times’ opinion journalism has on the national conversation.
Can you tell us about the public-facing side of your role?
I already represent the Times when I moderate panel discussions, which I do on a regular basis for either NYT events or organizations like the World Economic Forum. But there is more opportunity for the Times to engage with leaders from across business, politics and culture.
I hope to restart Publisher’s Office sessions, convening the most prominent leaders from around the country, the city and the world with reporters and editors from across the newsroom. Likewise, we will aim to meet with prominent leaders in places when traveling around the country and the world. This will all be much easier when the pandemic recedes, of course.
What does it mean to you on a personal level to grow with the Times?
I’m incredibly honored to work for the Times. Our mission, to cover the world without fear or favor and seek the truth, is essential to our democracy and more important than ever. We face many challenges, especially how to cover a country as divided as the U.S. is right now. But I’m excited to contribute and think that my perspective of being from Michigan helps both root and guide me.