Editorial: Hype makes focusing on solar eclipse a challenge

I have to confess, as your newspaper editor I’ve found it a little challenging getting my head wrapped around this Total Solar Eclipse.

I don’t have a problem with the concept – the very rare and cool phenomenon in which the moon lines up perfectly and blocks the sun for a couple of minutes. It’s nice to be able to view an astronomical event for which we don’t need a high-priced telescope and an expert standing by to tell us which of those specks out there are Venus and which are Jupiter.

When I say it’s a challenge to get a foothold on this eclipse, though, I’m talking about wading through the sea of information that’s out there on this thing.

To be honest, our newspaper staff has purposely waited until we got close before we really launched into serious coverage of the eclipse, simply because there’s so much information – everywhere you look. While the Internet is certainly a boon for just about anybody seeking to gather or disseminate information, I think it has contributed substantially to the amount of hype that surrounds us.

Hype is part of the landscape for most journalists and this Total Solar Eclipse hasn’t been any exception.

Everybody and their brother, seemingly, has jumped into this.

There are websites galore, many of them very helpful – though not particularly original. One area newspaper I know of produced an Eclipse Preparation Guide in late winter. Another has been doing a daily countdown to the event for, seemingly, weeks.

Gov. Kate Brown made the news a few weeks ago by announcing that she’s going to deploy the National Guard troops to help maintain order. I was trying to find out more about that and checked the Internet. Wow. The report appeared on dozens of websites for newspapers throughout the Northwest –most not in Oregon – as well as the usual hyper-ventilating TV station website posts.

We’re left to wonder how concerned we should be. Traffic congestion? Fires caused by people unfamiliar with dry conditions? Overtaxed public services? Eye damage? Wildlife freaking out? The ultimate location to see the sun at 9 in the morning? The cloud cover?

It’s revealing to talk to people who are old enough to recall the last Total Solar Eclipse, in 1979. I personally was in Japan at the time, so I missed it.

They remember it. One told me she was in school at the time. They went outside, looked at the eclipse through pin-hole cards, then went back to class. She said her aunt might have a photo.

There was a lot less hype back then, all the way around. I looked through our archives and found one (count it) story about the eclipse – a preview article the week before it happened. When I looked in the next issue, there was – nothing.

Granted, this is a small-town weekly we’re talking about and maybe those film photos didn’t turn out. But compared to today, this was pretty low-key.

The one article I found didn’t mention a whole lot about eclipse viewing parties, eclipse wine tours, eclipse concerts, eclipse fun runs and a massive celebration weekend at Oregon State University replete with eclipse-themed science, art and music activities for the whole family. Maybe some of that did happen and word failed to get out. We didn’t have e-mail and websites in those days.

Of course, eclipses are a big deal. They struck fear in ancient societies (many of which worshiped the sun), until the Greeks figured out how they worked and how to predict them.

They show up in the classic literature we read in high school (Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” William Shakespeare’s “King Lear,”), some three dozen films (starting with “The Eclipse” in 1907, per Wickipedia) and in the movie versions of the above, Walt Disney’s “Fantasia,” pop music – Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”).

They’re kind of cool (speaking figuratively), whether you’re into science or not. Having things go literally dark for a couple of minutes and the temperature drop 10 degrees or so makes it cool literally as well.

The point is, we’re obviously not the first to see one of these phenomenons but we might be better prepared to record it.

And that’s just what we plan to do.