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What IS this thing adding to our litter problem?

You're holding – probably at arm's length – the premier issue of the world's northernmost alternative newspaper.

It's certifiable as a collector's item, worthy of space next to the George W. Bush action figure and David Beckham L.A. Galaxy jersey on the shelf.

Newspapers are failing everywhere, so you don't even have to meet me to know my brain's a few degrees short of the defrost cycle. Plus it's not like I know all that much about Svalbard after moving here four months ago and spending the winter trying to learn Norsk by watching subtitles on "The Simpsons."

But I'm doing it anyway. Because I love journalism, I love the area and it's your wisdom, not mine, that will fill these pages.

Why "alternative" instead of some other nonsense hype like "northernmost English newspaper?"

Mostly because it's always been my dream to edit an alternative newspaper, but also it's the only kind I can do here with any credibility. People fluent in Norwegian who read Svalbardposten and other "real" newspapers available locally will probably dismiss much of this rag as obvious or stuff already published.

True, but as NBC used to say in an annoying ad pitch to justify reruns, "if you haven't seen it, it's new to you."

One of the things I heard when I first visited Svalbard more than a year ago was there are a lot of English-speaking students, scientists, tourists and others who can't follow the local and regional news in Norwegian, which is when I began plotting my vocational suicide.

Also, alternative newspapers ideally offer a different, perhaps more in-depth, perspective on a few subjects each issue without trying to cover everything. Even if I were up to speed on current events there's no way I could hope to keep up with all that's newsworthy on my own. Thanks (a big thanks) to Svalbardposten allowing me to run their headlines in English, with translations of articles available through the Icepeople site at www.icepeople.net, I don't have to try.

I've been editing and writing for newspapers for more than 20 years, including a couple of half-year seasons editing The Antarctic Sun at the McMurdo research facility the U.S. has at the bottom of the world. The focus was on polar science, politics and life, and I hope Icepeople can offer much of the same, along with additional topics of obvious local interest such as mining.

It's crucial to note I'm not seeking to compete with the local newspaper of record. Copies of Icepeople are free and I'm not trying to squeeze local businesses by actively soliciting ads (although I will gladly run them if approached). For those wondering how I plan to make any money to keep this thing going I'll note 1) I saved my pennies to try something like this someday, 2) I have freelance and other writing work I still do and 3) there's a foolish hope I can reap some income from the Web content, which will feature articles, photos, music, diversions and other extras not found here.

The idea this publication might become profitable is probably drawing guffaws from those observing this first issue is more of a flyer than a newspaper. Think of it as what restaurants call a "soft opening," where I'm start low-key and cautious as I evaluate who might be reading this and what subjects are likely to be of most interest.

Having just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and with Solfestuka coming up next week, this seemed like the right time to jump in. The plan is for issues to come out on Tuesdays, but the usual hitches that seem to plague any startup means this debut issue is a few days late. The next issue is scheduled for March 17, with publication planned every two weeks until I'm up-to-speed enough to go weekly – hopefully no more than a month or two.

Finally, the most useful thing I can get from you – even more so than money – is feedback. Let me know what works, what doesn't and when I've screwed up. Every newspaper does and, while it's gut-wrenching to hear about it, it's the only way to learn from mistakes and correct them.

My phone (41 51 46 38) and e-mail (marksabbatini@yahoo.com) usually work and I spend an unhealthy ratio of my waking hours soaking up caffeine at Fruene. I'm the guy with the bizarre hair, bloodshot eyes and massive Powerbook. Don't worry – I'm not that scary. It just happens to be a look that serves me well when traveling through primitive countries where I'd rather be mistaken for someone likely to rob tourists than being one myself. Now that I'm here and can't hide under 14 layers of clothes as summer approaches, I'll probably get a haircut.

Thanks for reading. It takes up valuable minutes of your life that you can never get back, so it's much appreciated.


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