The Young Aren't Stupid -- but They Are Changing Your World

Professor's Ageist Rant Highlights Foolishness of Underestimating Up-and-Comers

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Jonathon Feit Jonathon Feit
My, my, am I excited: Today, for the first time in far too long, I get to maim the hand that fed me!

Well, not technically: I've never personally met Chris Daly, a visiting professor of Journalism at Boston University. I was his colleague at BU, in the recently beleaguered College of Communication, as the youngest member of the faculty.

So when this visiting professor has the gall to ask why the Washington Post would allow a 27-year-old to write for the front page, I would counter by asking why Daly's own institution would allow a 24-year-old to teach?

The answer is simple, Dear Sir: it's the proverbial "Because we can." And we do. Pretty darn well, much of the time.

(Moreover, before going forward, I can't resist: Seriously, if Daly is going to even attempt to turn the youthful Perry Bacon Jr., into a whipping boy for his reporting, he should first invest in some fact-checking himself. Obama's name is spelled "Barack," not "Barrack," Professor; see paragraph two of your post.)

Aside from championing the rights of the gay and disabled communities, I take pleasure in nothing more than dispelling -- scratch that, obliterating, napalming even -- the moronic myth that age has anything whatsoever to do with ability. Happily, these days I find myself with no shortage of case studies from which to pull.

Let's start with my home industry -- publishing. Within the newspaper world, we've got Harvard-pedigreed New York impresario Jared Kushner, a tall, lanky, swell gent I've had the pleasure of meeting. Jared radiates an accomplished, deserving pride that says "I own a newspaper, and lots of property, and other stuff too. ... Oh, and I can finally rent a car without that under-25 fee. Hooray!"

On the magazine side, we find another Harvard alumnus: Bom Kim, the 27-year-old founder of 02138 magazine, managed to get himself a nice bit of press. Oh, and $4 million from Atlantic Media CEO David Bradley. But really, what does Kim know? He's not a thirtysomething.

I probably shouldn't start on the Internet business: beyond Facebook, Google, and MySpace. I'll probably leave out someone who has changed the way information around the world is trafficked with at least a decade before his or her first scheduled midlife crisis.

And don't worry, there are plenty of youthful women getting in on the act as well. Check out 26-year-old Amanda Congdon over at ABC News, or Rachel Sklar at the Huffington Post's Eat the Press, (who is now over 30, but wasn't when she broke into the media game).

Perhaps Professor Daly would like this multiplicity of erudite, educated, eloquent, and just plain whiz-bang in-the-know voices to shut up until they (we) are older? Considering that none other than Slate's Jack Shafer linked to Daly's resume amid the latter's excoriation (execution?) on Tuesday, I'm tempted to suggest that the ageist argument might be self-serving one: Is Daly the pressure from young'uns squeezing him oh-so-steadfastly out of that precious journalistic box marked "Relevant."

All is not lost! Indeed, Professor Daly's ageist ilk could take a cue from the advertising world (especially since he works down next door to one of the country's top advertising and marketing programs).

The advertising and marketing communities have seen fit not only to entrust up-and-comers to be the gatekeepers to multimillion dollar marketing budgets, but they are learning evermore blatantly that 18-29-year-olds don't only spend: We create everything from trends to technologies.

Swimming upstream against a tidal wave of youth was a great way to for Professor Daly to generate some publicity for himself -- kudos to that. But when it comes to professional reality, a cohort born after 1977 is changing the world over and over again. Still, widespread underestimation of us continues -- much to our masochistic delight.
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