The Pudding explains ideas debated in culture with visual essays. By wielding original datasets, primary research, and interactivity, we try to thoroughly explore complex topics.
Visual essays are an emerging form of journalism. Some of the most complex, debated topics get lost in “too long; didn’t read” 10,000-word articles. Visual storytelling makes ideas more accessible—or so goes the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
At The Pudding, our goal is to advance public discourse and avoid media echo chambers. We’re not chasing current events or clickbait. We choose topics where visuals both entertain and inform. This means that we invest in research and ignore news cycle noise.
Why “The Pudding?”
How we do it
We're five full-time journalist-engineers who operate as a collective rather than hierarchical team.
Much of our work is done autonomously, with individuals choosing their essays and owning the whole story, from research to code. Each team member can do every step: research and reporting, data analysis, design, writing, and code.
One luxury that separates us from traditional newsrooms is our approach to publishing urgency. There are no deadlines because we are not tied to news events. With breaking news, it's difficult to gamble on weird, ambitious ideas if they must be published. No one will take on risky, creative projects when they're staring at a deadline.
So we experiment, a lot. The creative process feels more like workshopping a movie script than critiquing a bar chart. Consequently, many of our ideas are killed during production, but we wouldn’t have it any other way! It means we’re trying unproven, never-done-before things.
We're also trying to advance the craft. Visual journalism is still in its infancy. We don't have an established pattern language found in traditional reporting. Sometimes we'll attempt an unfamiliar visual approach—not because it's guaranteed to work, but because we won’t know until we try. Rarely do organizations have the liberty take such risks, yet we're small enough to experiment in the pursuit of quality.
Keeping the lights on
The Pudding is financially viable, bootstrapped, and profitable (intentionally).
There is no venture capital artificially keeping our lights on. To date, we are partially reader-funded on Patreon and actively seeking grants to support our journey toward independent visual journalism.
(So if you’re from a foundation, don't be shy!)
Our primary revenue sources are 1) essay sponsors and 2) white-labeled content. Sponsorship is akin to what you might find on a podcast..."this article was made possible by Blue Apron."
For white-labeled content (aka client work), we find purpose-aligned clients who want to collaborate on public, visual essays in exchange for fees. And as a team of world-class journalist-engineers, we can be selective (clients include Google, YouTube, Viacom, Kaggle, Kickstarter). So far, we have enjoyed our work-for-hire projects, as they often involve datasets that we'd otherwise never have access to. To avoid confusion with our editorial mission, these efforts are branded under our sister-visualization agency, Polygraph.
Some of the reasons why you might like it here:
1. This is a making-it-up-as-we-go, building-the-plane-in-the-air type of organization. Look to us if you want a small, startup feel that’s buzzing with possibility. This is different than other newsrooms that have hierarchies and an established "how-we-do-things," decades-old process.
2. You want to be involved in building something new. Yes, we publish essays, yet plenty of energy goes into perfecting a creative process that's still in its infancy. As part of a small team, your opinion matters a lot.
3. You crave autonomy rather than taking direction. There are plenty of organizations where you can slot into a well-oiled, historically prestigious machine. You'll get an editor, a process, and story assignments. But that also comes with baggage, particularly the creeping conservatism that often accompanies success (i.e., you were told your idea isn’t “accessible”). This is pretty much the opposite: what you make emerges from your own burning desires—ideas gestating in the back of your head for months (or years!) that you’ve never had the latitude to explore.
4. You're over making noise. We want you to pick projects that don't live and die by the news cycle. You want your work to have a multi-year lifespan. The Pudding underwrites your research interests (go read all the books!) and gives you time (and financial stability) to explore them.
5. Creativity is not a solitary endeavor. If you’re working solo, we’ll give you an editor, or design resources, or coding help. Whatever it takes to execute your vision. What matters is that we help you understand what readers will feel and keep you motivated. We’ll be your sanity check for whether the music you're playing is just in your head or actually on the page.
6. Craft matters. We are building tools that make visual storytelling easier. Yet instead of making something for everyone, our tools begin with one group of users: ourselves. Building for general consumer adoption is a noble pursuit, but there’s something special that happens when a toolmaker builds something for their own creative ambitions.
7. You’re keen on building a following. Most of us started doing this work “on the side,” often on a personal blog. You may have experience wielding your own voice and the thrill of finding readers. We don’t want that to be lost by “getting hired” somewhere. Each person needs to have an identity that they'd otherwise cultivate independently.
8. We calibrate our salaries against interactive journalist and data visualization roles. We recognize that our skill sets are not the same as prose-based journalists, and we ensure that folks joining our mission aren’t taking a paycut from the tech world.
How we choose stories
For each story idea, we evaluate it against a rubric: our criteria for prioritizing a story worth explaining visually.
The idea is worthy of public discourse. Would a 4-person group debate the premise of the idea for 20 minutes? What assumptions does it challenge? Typical feedback when an idea doesn't fit this criteria: it's “water is wet”.
There’s a deeper truth. What deeper truth does it reveal (even if it’s buried deep in the essay)? Does the reader leave the essay feeling differently? Typical feedback when an idea doesn't fit this criteria: it's flat.
You’re showing, not telling. Visuals make your argument more accessible and less complex than a thousand-word essay. That detail allows readers to form their own opinions without taking the author’s argument word-for-word (i.e., you’re far more likely to break out of an echo chamber to someone who doesn’t agree with you). Typical feedback when an idea doesn't fit this criteria: TL;DR.
After an idea is deemed a good fit, we expect the work to be in rough shape. Creative ideas start in shambles. It’s only after weeks of hard work, feedback, and iteration that what’s on the page matches the ambitious vision in your head.
If you have a story that you’re excited about that meets our criteria, hit us up at email@example.com. Each quarter, we commission a couple essays, typically requiring about a month of the author’s time, starting at a rate of $5,000. If you think your story would be a good fit, send us your portfolio or relevant work and a proof of concept (prototypes, R/Jupyter notebooks, mock-ups, etc.). Need some inspiration? Check out our idea backlog.
We’ve received a Peabody for our work in digital journalism for 2017, a gold, a silver, and two bronzes at the Information is Beautiful Awards.
For business opportunities, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. For all other inquiries, reach out to email@example.com.
We partner with purpose-aligned clients for custom software development of co-branded data visualizations and visual stories. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.