www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2 is an ever-growing, real-life guide to everything, written by smart arses.
— The Guardian's Johnny Dee, 30 April, 2005.
Last month I wrote about how h2g2 Guide Entries are now being cited as source references in academic journals and books. This time I've turned my attention to another area of publishing which regularly quotes and references h2g2, and that's the press.
Newspapers have published general articles about h2g2 throughout its life, starting with the press releases made when the project was launched in 1999. Since then, h2g2 has also received passing mentions in stories covering the death of Douglas Adams in 2001, on the launch of the Mobile Hitchhiker's Guide in 2005, and on the release of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie in the same year. Some Researchers will have doubtless been alerted to the site's existence through publicity such as this.
On many occasions the press has either used or referred to specific material from the Guide itself, and has been happy to declare the fact. Journalists generally use this material either to provide supporting information for their article or as a source of further reading. Sometimes the Guide has plainly inspired the journalist to write the article, and a few Entries are quoted extensively. It's gratifying to see the press take the trouble to acknowledge h2g2. If you've ever written for the Guide, then you will surely be proud to learn that readers have been directed towards your Entry.
I recently searched through a newspaper information service and this threw up around 60 mentions of h2g2 Entries up to the end of 2008. There will surely be other references out there, too: not every publication submits its text to these online databases, and others may only have started doing so at some point within the last ten years. In any case, this search has thrown up a cross-section of articles illustrating how the press uses the Guide, and indeed what they think of it.
The Early Days
The earliest reference found was one in the Daily Mail (London) on 20 June, 2000. This was an era of dotcom boom and bust, one in which newspaper readers across the UK and indeed worldwide were starting to buy home computers and dial up to the Internet to see what all the fuss was about. Papers were awash with articles on where you should surf, and A113923 - The World's Best Beaches appeared in a column entitled 'The Good Site Guide'.
Want to know where the best beaches in the world are? Go to http://www.h2g2.com/A113923. From Australia to Mexico, Malaysia to the Isle of Mull, the top spots for sand, sun and unpolluted beauty are listed here.
Billed as the Earth edition of The Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy, www.h2g2.com has all sorts of interesting facts about travel, technology, food and drink and many other subjects.
This particular entry featured the contributions of 23 Researchers. It is one of a number of fine collaborative entries to be mentioned in the press, with other early examples including:
A452134 - Prevention and Cures for Colds, featured in the Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia) on 4 July, 2001,
A403147 - Unusual Sports, featured in the Turkish Probe (Ankara) on 15 December, 2002, and
Bouquets and Brickbats
It's nice to know when a journalist has enjoyed the entry they refer to. Gushing praise is rare within the constraints of a newspaper article, but sometimes a well-placed adjective can say a lot:
The Legend and History of Danny Boy (www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A3826136): A good overview of the history of the song.
— The Daily Telegraph, 17 March, 2006.
www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A517655: This member of the BBC's H2G2 community serves up a great summary of what Germany's Carnival is all about, including history, a calendar of events, regional specialties and even a cool recipe for donuts.
— Sunday Mail (South Australia), September 24, 2006.
The BBC's unconventional hg2g1 has a witty guide (bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A840683) to the age-old tradition of apres-ski.
— The Guardian, October 28, 2006.
For more interesting and amusing information on Douglas's life and work, go to h2g2 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A3790659) the unconventional guide to life, the universe and everything inspired by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself.
— New Zealand Press Association, 17 September, 2008.
A few references are critical. Local newspaper The Waikato Times wasn't too impressed with h2g2's Entry A17525540 - Hamilton, New Zealand. In its 7 July, 2007 issue, under the heading 'Tough Review', it described the Entry as 'unflattering', and the article ends on a sarcastic 'More great tourism info on our fair city next week.'
In the Classroom
Some newspaper supplements are aimed at the education sector, and h2g2 has cropped up regularly in articles aimed at teachers. It's unlikely that a whole generation of schoolchildren will grow up reciting h2g2 as a mantra, but it's plainly a useful resource. Search for h2g2 on the Times Educational Supplement website and you'll find Guide Entries mentioned in many discussions on the teachers forum.
In 2006, The Guardian in its Education Pages quoted A330968 - Knives in an article on designing lessons to tackle the problems with knife crime. In the following year, the same publication discussed some ways in which pupils could learn what is involved in food production, and suggested that they use the words in A604270 - Farm Animals and their Names to create a wordsearch or crossword.
The Times Educational Supplement borrows extensively from A696125 - 'Oranges and Lemons' - The Nursery Rhyme in its 26 March, 2004 issue.
You might have thought that h2g2 being in English, mentions of it would be restricted to the English-language press. Not so! This search threw up a handful of references from newspapers in Denmark, Germany, Holland and even Malaysia.
The humour in the entry A218882 - Handy Latin Phrases clearly struck a chord with the Danish newspaper Politiken. It was referenced twice in 2002.
Zuzeln oder Schneiden? Diese existenzielle Frage stellt Besucher Bayerns immer wieder vor groesste Probleme, wenn es um die fachgerechte Zerlegung der Nationalspeise Weisswurst geht. Damit sich der Reisende oder Zugezogene nicht bis auf die Knochen blamiert, fuehrt die Internet-Seite "How to eat Weisswurst" in die hohe Kunst des Weisswurstessens ein. Auf Englisch gibt es nicht nur eine Gebrauchsanleitung zum Verzehr, sondern es werden auch die nicht unwesentlichen Fragen der Bier- und Senfauswahl erklaert.
(Sucking or slicing? This existential question causes major problems time and time again for visitors to Bavaria when confronted with the art of taking apart a Weisswurst, its national dish. To save travellers or non native people from making complete fools of themselves, the Internet site 'How to eat Weisswurst' introduces you to the fine art of Weisswurst-eating. Not only does it instruct you – in English – how to eat it, but it even answers the important questions of which beer and mustard to choose.)
On a more critical note, the Dutch newspaper Rotterdams Dagblad ran an article on the entry A1056124 - Sightseeing in Rotterdam, The Netherlands on 2 August, 2007. Under the heading 'Advies aan Britten: mijd Delfshaven!' (Advice to Britons - avoid Delfshaven!) it criticises the section of the Entry which advises travellers not to bother visiting Delfshaven's restored mill, treating the whole piece as the corporate opinion of the BBC (Een advies met deze strekking is afkomstig van de Britse staatsomroep BBC).
In my last article, I mentioned that some academic references to h2g2 had linked to Entries that weren't in the Edited Guide. Newspapers, too, have chosen a few unedited versions. This is not an ideal situation: unedited entries can be amended and even deleted by the author, who may be unaware that their Entry's URL has been enshrined in print.
Back in August, 2000, The Observer celebrated the unedited A4519 - Bank Robbery as:
One of the few sites to celebrate the advantages of being a bank robber. It points out that 'when you get to prison, people will look up to you, give you cigarettes and want to be your girlfriend'.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an article on sun-dried tomatoes on 16 August, 2001. Sadly, readers won't be able to follow up the link to more tips at A267527, as the author's deleted it.
It's difficult to be sure of numbers, but newspaper references to h2g2 appear to be on the increase – this search turned up many more in the last three years than in the seven before it. The number of new entries going in to the Edited Guide may be lower these days than it was at its peak, but most would agree that the quality is as good as it's ever been, and it will be interesting to see how h2g2 performs on the newspaper reference test in years to come.
We'll finish by mentioning one of h2g2's most interesting recent initiatives, the Aviators group, who produce audio-visual content. I was fascinated to see a newspaper taking the trouble to plug a video recorded by our very own h2g2 Post Editor, Skankyrich.
Trainspot in the New Forest
Never mind retracing bored steps on this 10-mile scoot through Hampshire's New Forest - the trail from Ashurst to Brockenhurst is linked by rail stations. There are pubs at both ends, too. See www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A30560979 for details and links to a YouTube video so that you can see before you go!
— 'Top 50 Spring Walks' , Daily Telegraph, 5 April, 2008.
Are My Entries in the Press?
I've added all of the newspaper references listed above and others I've found to a list I've been compiling at A46972182 - Published References to h2g2 Entries. It contains references to h2g2 entries in newspapers, books, patent applications and academic journals. Feel free to have a browse, and if you know of any I've missed, then let me know and I'll add them.
As with research papers and books, the text of newspaper articles isn't always available on the Web (although I've included a link where it is), and may only be available through subscription information services. If you know someone who works in research, maybe a student or a journalist, then they may be able to help you track down any article which isn't generally available, if you ask them nicely.