Journal contributors fear loss of Kiwi content

KIWI CLASSIC: Learning Media’s axing has been met with dismay by children’s writers, such as Philippa Werry, who are concerned about the future of its flagship publication, the School Journal.
KIWI CLASSIC: Learning Media’s axing has been met with dismay by children’s writers, such as Philippa Werry, who are concerned about the future of its flagship publication, the School Journal.

Children's writers and illustrators fear the School Journal's homegrown content will be shelved, even as the Government is promising a new chapter for the publication.

The Government last week announced plans to wind down Learning Media, which employs 109 staff. The first School Journal was published in 1907.

Since losing the exclusive contract to supply the Ministry of Education in 2011, the small state-owned enterprise's revenue has fallen by about 25 per cent and it was no longer financially viable, Finance Minister Bill English said last week.

New Zealand literary leaders were uneasy after the announcement. Children's writers Jack Lasenby and David Hill were among 62 authors, illustrators, teachers and librarians who have launched a campaign to keep School Journal alive, and Kiwi-made.

The group, which includes regular contributors for whom Learning Media provides their main income, has aired concerns that the creative content could be outsourced to overseas providers, or that Kiwi businesses might offer lower rates of pay to contributors to win contracts.

Regular contributor and Wellington illustrator Fifi Colston said that by scrapping Learning Media, the Government had underestimated its value as an educational tool.

"You can't always measure an investment purely by money. I think they have done the country a real disservice."

It was important to keep the creative content Kiwi-made, as homegrown artists captured a uniquely Kiwi cultural perspective to which children responded, she said.

Award-winning Wellington young adults' fiction writer and former contributor Philippa Werry said the School Journal was worth protecting.

"It is just really important for children to see their own lives validated in print.

"That's one thing the journal has been wonderful at - it depicts Kiwi children from all kinds of backgrounds."

Ministry deputy secretary Andrew Hampton said a meeting with key stakeholders and Learning Media yesterday showed both New Zealand-owned and international businesses were keen to pick up the contract, which includes the journal and Ready to Read reading materials.

The creative content would stay in New Zealand, in print format, he said.

"School Journal's future as a uniquely New Zealand publication, reflecting our culture and identity, is assured. We remain committed to publishing material by New Zealand authors for New Zealand schools."

Among School Journal contributors over the years have been New Zealand art and literary greats Dick Frizzell, Colin McCahon, Margaret Mahy and Witi Ihimaera.

Fairfax Media