Inflame or inform? That is the question.

The lead on a recent story from the Philadelphia Inquirer caught my eye on Facebook and so I went to the story to read it in full. Here’s the lead:

In a quick hearing in a crowded federal courtroom, Colleen "JihadJane" LaRose of Pennsburg pleaded not guilty yesterday to terrorism charges.

I had been only marginally following this story, but I knew enough to know who “JihadJane” was. What raised my eyebrow was the use of her nickname in the lead. I wonder if it was necessary. If you read the entire story, you will come across this five paragraphs after the lead:

LaRose, who called herself "JihadJane" and "Fatima LaRose" in scores of online postings avowing hatred for U.S. policies toward Muslims, is accused of stealing an ex-boyfriend's passport and aiding the plot of a group of Islamic dissidents in Europe to kill Lars Vilks, who depicted Muhammad with the body of a dog in 2007.

I do think it’s legitimate to provide that information, but I’m troubled that it’s part of the lead. In the lead, it’s inflammatory, not informative. In paragraph five, it’s informative.

Consider the New York Times’ lead:

The Pennsylvania woman accused of recruiting men on the Internet to wage jihad in southern Asia and Europe pleaded not guilty Thursday to all counts in federal court in Philadelphia.

That lead informs rather than inflames. The second paragraph of the story also informs:

The authorities say the woman, Colleen R. LaRose, is a terrorist sympathizer known by her Internet name, “JihadJane,” and had expressed a desire to become a martyr for an Islamist cause.

I did a quick Internet search and found other news organizations publishing leads that were more along the lines of the Inquirer’s. I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I don’t know what others want, but I want more information and less inflammation in my news. That’s what news should be and I hope the story in the Inquirer is the exception, not the rule, for that news outlet and many others.

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