In contrast to national newspapers the principal research method for the regional press was a questionnaire, devised by us, but sent out on our behalf by the Newspaper Society and the Guild of Editors. We further interviewed some editors and assistant editors of particular newspapers in person or over the telephone. Our object was to ascertain the impact of defamation law on regional and local papers. In particular, we were interested to find out how this differed from that experienced by national newspapers. Comparisons may also be drawn with the experience of magazines which have a national circulation, but which like many regional papers are issued weekly (or monthly). Our initial hypothesis was that the incidence of libel writs and complaints is much lower than it is in the case of the London papers, although we did not assume that, as a result, this area of law has less overall impact on the regional press.
The questionnaire was sent out in March 1994, with replies requested for 31 May 1994. It was sent out to 250 regional editors, members of the Guild of Editors. There were forty-four responses from editors, assistant editors, or in some cases group editors, representing 118 newspaper titles. Six titles were morning papers, twenty-two evening papers, twenty-seven paid for weekly papers, and four were Sunday newspapers. Of the other titles, fifty-eight were weekly free papers and one was a monthly business publication. The questionnaire was designed in the first place to elicit some information about the number of writs in the previous five years ( 1988-93), about the number of cases which came to