When is it “breaking” news?

Today is Monday. A reporter sends in news that a man died after being hit by a car in Belgrade. The accident happened Saturday night, but we didn’t hear about it until two days later.

The question: Is this breaking news?

The answer to that question has repercussions for how the news is presented to readers on the Chronicle’s website. A story flagged as “breaking” gets pushed out to our readers much more aggressively, with automatic postings on Facebook and Twitter, e-mail alerts and even text messages to our subscribers. All of that is in addition to the glaring breaking news banner that appears on top of the website.

(I also asked this question on Quora, but feel free to answer here in the comments.)

Some news sites, including a few of our sibling papers in the Pioneer chain, put up the “breaking” banner a lot more often than we do at the Chronicle. Some sites even leave it up all the time.

I think leaving it up all the time destroys the breaking news banner’s visual appeal. The point of putting a big, red banner on top of the site is to have it stand out, and it won’t stand out if readers’ eyes get used to seeing it there.

On top of that, we are very selective as to what constitutes breaking news. I say “selective,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a definitive process for making the decision. There is no written policy. The decision is made on a case-by-case situation.

We, obviously decided to make it “breaking” news in this case. What choice would you have made?