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The happy transient

Mark in "the office", a table in the café Fruene. FOTO: Geir Barstein

The happy transient

Mark Sabbatini was a crime reporter for the acclaimed Los Angeles Times and a newspaper editor in Antarctica. Since there his career has gone steadily downhill – just as he hoped.

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"I 'm a professional transient who has dedicated my life to descending the career ladder of success, and have been working at smaller and less reputable newspapers over time. It's the stupidest plan in the world, but I love it," the former U.S. resident said with a laugh.
He's a familiar sight for the city's population, whether he's sitting in the "office" at Fruene or driving around in a bright blue Subaru.

"I wrote about crime for the Los Angeles Times and I hated it," he said. "I hated the heat and I hated the city, and I realized that my job title is not the most important thing in life."

Sabbatini, 47, moved to the small town of Juneau, Alaska, where he worked as a reporter and later an editor of the local Juneau Empire newspaper. But it was two seasons in Antarctica, between 2001 and 2003, that woke his polar fever.

"I was there with my wife - now ex-wife - and we edited the newspaper there, The Antarctic Sun," he said. "It was fantastic. We spent half the season at McMurdo Station and the rest of the year traveling around the world."

After Antarctica, he continued the vagrant life, focusing on writing about jazz "in weird places."

"That's how I discovered Svalbard and Polarjazz," he said. "There can't be a stranger place than here. Thirty minutes after I had landed in Longyearbyen for the first time in 2008, I decided: Here is where I want to live and operate my own newspaper."

The result was Icepeople, a one-person operation that is distributed free at the Coop and other local businesses and hotels, and published online at icepeople.net.

"Svalbard is amazingly an incredibly interesting place for news, not only for those who live here, but for the whole world," he said. "What about climate change? Who is that going after oil? We have a front row seat in the theater for the news of the future."

But, as in the rest of the news business, it runs on money. The bottom line is bleeding and the newspaper manis facing a scythe that constantly threatens to close the door for good.

"Right now it goes from week to week," Sabbatini said. "I may have to sell the apartment and I'm trying to teach myself to be business man. The problem is that I'm terrible at it; as a journalist it is a role I've always hated. And that's the problem with the job, you get so involved in news that you forget to be practical."

Whatever the outcome, he said he will cling to Spitsbergen as long as possible.

"I'll stay here until I die or I'm sent into exile," he said with a smile. "I have traveled all over the world, but there is no other place I'd rather live than here."

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