There is plenty of change going on the world these days, and the fire service is no different. We are looking into the science of our business and debating how to apply it, wrestling with generational issues, technology, etc., but one of the most striking changes to come along in the last ten years or so has been the way we get our information. And it is important to recognize these changes and how they influence our industry. Our younger members may not have the experience to recognize the difference between a technical article and blog, which could easily lead them astray in the absence of good leadership.
Ten years ago, we waited for the hard copy of Fire Engineering to arrive. Fire Engineering is known for it’s technical integrity and what you see printed there is reliable information. It is important to understand how that editorial process works. The magazine content goes through a peer review process where technical experts in a specific area review an article to ensure that it is accurate and relevant. Then the editors work their magic to ensure it meets literary standards. And before anything hits the news stand or mailbox, it is reviewed again by the Editor in Chief to ensure everything is accurate and true. And if an article challenges the current thinking, the “Letters to the Editor” section is sure to light up with comments, to which the author will often respond.
If you monitor social media at all today, you’ll see that blogs are becoming more popular. Blogs allow virtually anyone to post content and then share it through various social media outlets. This is both good and bad, depending on which blog you read. Some blogs use editors and technical advisors to ensure accuracy, but they are certainly the minority. There are some that are awesome because the author is awesome. But many of the blogs I see in my newsfeed (my stuff included) are simply opinion, which may or may not be technically sound. This creates a situation where we must carefully evaluate the blog content and draw our own conclusions on the value of the work. If I read a blog and think, “Yeah, me too!,” that doesn’t necessarily make the author or me technically accurate. Sometimes, it’s more similar to, “Here, hold my drink.”
As with most everything we read in the media today, critical thinking skills are essential to make sure we carefully evaluate the information presented. We have to consider the standard critical-thinking criteria, such as who, what, when and where. We also must consider the author’s point of view, their background and experience, their training, and any agendas they may attempting to move forward. Occasionally, emotion plays a large roll in the content, as well. And much like we must evaluate what they did say, we must also consider what they didn’t say. What key elements did they avoid that seem to skirt logic?
So I think it is important that we carefully evaluate the information we see through the various media outlets today. There is a big difference between an article in the magazine that has been technically reviewed and a rant on little Johnny’s webpage. We should greet everything we read with some skepticism to ensure the ideas and concepts are factual. Sure, a great blog can be fantastic entertainment, but remember it’s just that…entertainment.
So I encourage you to challenge what is presented to you. Is the information factual? Do we have all of the information? Is the story being spun to support a particular agenda? If you want to practice, just watch the various news networks and how they cover the same event. But when considering what you read on social media regarding the fire service, use a critical eye. Some of the information out there is great, some is opinion, and some is just plain ignorant or misguided. You have the do the work of deciding what you feed your brain and sorting valuable information from fire service entertainment.