THAILAND'S OLDEST MAGAZINE
Vidthayajarn, in print for over a century, is struggling to hold the attention of a new generation
Story by SURASAK TUMCHAROEN
Asked which is the oldest existing magazine in Thailand, many people will pick the Rajakijjanubeksa, or Royal Gazette, which was first published 149 years ago during the reign of King Rama IV.
But the Royal Gazette is an official bulletin publishing state announcements, not a commercial magazine.
The oldest existing commercial magazine is now more than a century old, but very few people know it still exists, and many more have never even heard of it.
What about you? Do you know Vidthayajarn?
Yes, Vidthayajarn is the oldest existing magazine in Thailand. It is published by the Teachers Council, or Khurusapha.
Although it is not that popular with your average B2S-going magazine reader, it is widely read by undergraduates of Rajabhat universities, especially those studying at the faculty of education. These students are pushed to read articles about modern educational techniques and reforms, among other academic subjects, often written by their own lecturers.
For the students, assignments to regularly read the 106-year-old monthly magazine to catch up with developments in academic matters and education may be seen as boring and painstaking.
They would prefer to read fashion or celebrity gossip magazines, a must for most youngsters these days.
The lecturers and those who run Vidthayajarn sometimes have go to desperate lengths to keep the magazine alive.
Thailand's oldest magazine `Vidthayajarn' is now 106 years old. Although its circulation has been steadily dropping due to budget constraints and a shrinking readership, the editorial team refuses to let the periodical become extinct. — Photos by APICHIT JINAKUL
"How much longer is this periodical going to survive, one may wonder? Well, we'll leave it to the young generation of readers to decide," says Yuthachai Uttama, the editorial chief of the magazine.
Teachers and lecturers at public schools and universities throughout the country are asked not only to read the monthly themselves, but to "manage" to get their to students read it as well.
The editorial staff and contributing teachers believe their students will continue to read Vidthayajarn after they have graduated and hopefully become teachers or work in jobs related to education.
The teachers, most of whom are members of the Teachers Council, are asked to subscribe to the publication and help keep the magazine from extinction.
"It has been destined to survive at all costs. None of us could bear to see it fold in our time," says the editorial chief.
The 100-plus page magazine now has about 600 subscribers among those teachers and others who care to read it. Most have a 500-baht yearly subscription.
"That's a big challenge for us, the editorial staff, to get the attention of a young generation of readers who are not very interested in academic subjects. Many of the subscribers have subscribed for decades already."
Vidthayajarn, which translates as "teachers of knowledge", is one of the country's few periodicals which is circulated among a certain group of people and not put on sale at book stores or newsstands. Established by the Education Ministry in 1901 in the reign of King Rama V the Great, the magazine contains articles about education and technological subjects as well as short stories and commentaries contributed by Khurusapha's member teachers.
Apart from the academic topics, some teachers who want to transfer positions with teachers from other schools so they can be relocated from one province to another contact the editorial staff to get free advertising in the monthly magazine.
The magazine, which sold for 72 satang during its maiden years and now sells for 50 baht, is considered to be a platform for those in educational circles to demonstrate the results of their research and dissertations, preach morality and social values, introduce new teaching and learning methods, offer guidance to those who want to advance their studies or simply make their names a little better known to colleagues and associates.
The century-old magazine's circulation peaked at 40,000 copies over the last decade, during which time it was distributed free to members of Khurusapha nationwide.
With budget constraints, the magazine's circulation gradually dropped to 5,000 copies last year and has fallen to 2,000 copies now. Free copies are no longer available.
Vinit Sattabut, the director of a secondary school in Phetchabun who has subscribed to Vidthayajarn for more than 20 years, considers it a useful read and offered to persuade his colleagues to subscribe to it as well.
Phasuk Lertphornprasopchoke, a secondary school teacher at a public school in Khon Kaen, suggested the magazine include some lighter stories or cartoons.
"It is primarily an academic publication which many people, apart from those in educational circles, would undoubtedly find dull and uninteresting. Perhaps, that's the way it was meant to be," concluded a senior editorial staffer.