But the news business looks for trends, and that includes trends in the news business itself. That's where LIRQS comes in.
The way I heard it told, from a New York Times veteran, was that a long time ago (maybe in the 70s), Times reporter Lawrence Van Gelder spent a long weekend analyzing the paper's most successful stories - front-page features, award winners, etc - to pull out what, if anything, they had in common.
LIRQS was the result of that effort. If not a formula then a structure, a framework to guide young (or just bad) writers in crafting a successful story, at least the critical first half of one.
Here's how it works:
1. LEDE: There are a few ways to begin a story (factual lede vs. anecdotal lede, for two), but it should grip the reader and give them something to latch onto. To reference a good movie, your opening scene is your best footage. When writing for the Web, the lede needs to be quick and factual, and include the juiciest bits of your story, or nobody will continue reading.
2. IMPACT: Your 'nut graf' - the nut at the core of the fruit. Why this story matters and who it matters to. Basically answer the question "who cares?"
3. REACT: The other side(s) of the issue from that of your main character, or the reaction of those impacted by the issue. This section defines the tension, the drama of the story - the sides struggling against each other over the issue.
4. QUOTE: Your money quote. What is your money quote? Well it goes back to why you quote people in the first place - because they say something better than you could write it. Or because they have the authority to say something that you, as the neutral observer, do not.
5. SCENE: Context. Now you can get into where this story takes place, with a brief history of the issue, statistics to back up different arguments made over it, etc. This is the rest of the article. Tell the characters' stories, give the facts, and write your article. Give us the scene where all of this is taking place.
With this kind of approach, you do have the bare bones of a news story that establishes some of the players and gives them a voice, illustrates the tension inherent in the issue and identifies the action-reaction of people impacted by an issue and those responsible for that impact.
It my not be a formula for journalism, but it's certainly a decent way to get some of the most important elements up at the top, which will give your readers a reason to keep reading. And that is what good journalism is all about, right?