Those 147 seconds of clear sky during the total solar eclipse were like night and day in more than the literal sense.
During a week when perhaps an unprecedented number of media types had their eyes on Svalbard, coverage early in the week presented the archipelago as unwelcoming due to nature (blizzards and a polar bear attack) and the local folks (“don’t come here, officials warn last-minute travelers”).
Furthermore, the weather was overcast most of the week and the prospects for clear skies on Eclipse Day were seen as 50-50 until the last moment, which meant thousands of “eclipse tourists” might prove less than enthusiastic interview subjects.
“They were saying it’s an interesting place, but these people didn’t come here because of Svalbard,” said Ronny Brunvoll, director of Visit Svalbard. “They were here for the eclipse.”
But a nearly clear dawn Friday shined a new light on Svalbard. As a result, the global headlines evolved from British tabloid screamers such as “Polar bear mauls Svalbard tourist” the day before to glowing accolades where words like “espectáculo” needed no translation to savor.
The raves were amplified by the fact the archipelago was the only inhabited place on Earth where the total eclipse could be observed since clouds blocked the view in the Faroe Islands. But Brunvoll said he doesn’t know if that will result in any long-term benefits for Svalbard’s image and tourism trade.
“It’s all about repeating the message,” he said. But “now they’re all focusing on the next thing.”
“Of course, we’ve got great, great pictures we can use.”
There were some clueless correspondents (or editors) as well, including one article headlined “Polar bear attacks at lunar eclipse” (it wasn’t during the eclipse and even more obviously wasn’t a lunar blackout).
There were also articles about the eclipse causing unprecedented (but not catastrophic) disruptions of Europe’s power grid and tides – but for those in Svalbard the incidents were the textbook definition of “other people’s problems.”