Inspiration can come from unlikely places. I was recently reviewing a report from one of the BBC’s best journalists, Lyse Doucet in Afghanistan. In a remote and hostile location, she told the story of an expectant mother and the desperate attempts by pitifully resourced medical staff to save her unborn child. “This,” she said without exaggeration, “is the worst place in the world to give birth.” It was an intensely moving piece and it got me thinking: if parts of Afghanistan are the worst place in the world to have a child, where is the best? And where is my family’s experience on that scale?
This was the starting point for a new initiative at BBC World Service, BBC World News and the BBC News website:Extreme World. It's not a season of programmes, but a themed approach to some editorial content, using the idea of extremes as a way of seeing the world and understanding our place in it. What is life like in the hottest place on earth and, conversely, the coldest? What about issues such as crime and corruption?
The more we explored issues in this way, the more interesting it became - and sometimes surprising. When researching death and dying, for example, some of our perceptions were given interesting new contexts. Dying in a developed country, for example, might give you access to better medical care, but hospitals, hospices and care homes can leave people remote from their loved ones and sometimes completely alone. Poorer countries may have a lack of medical facilities, but the role of the community and family in a remote village in sub-Saharan Africa make a solitary death far less likely.
A theme allows us to play to the different strengths of radio, television and online and to ensure they complement each other. A listener might hear a piece of on-the-scene reporting on the World Service followed by an invitation to go online and explore the data around the story - particularly how their own country, which may well not be at the extremes, fits into the global picture.
The label is a vital part of the process. We hope that regular users of our services pick up the baggage of the season over time and make links they would otherwise have been invisible. We hope that it will offer a fresh way of looking at subjects which might otherwise get lost in the blizzard of 21st-Century media.
Extreme World promises to be an exciting and intriguing collection of content that will continue to take shape over the coming months, providing our reporters with fresh angles and perspectives and offering audiences a range and depth of compelling reports on TV, on radio and online.
Craig Oliver is the controller of English at BBC Global News.