Reviewed October 2019
Lindsey Taggart, Director of Resource Management & Discovery
Duane G. Meyer Library, Missouri State University
The Pudding is a website and publishing agency that produces interactive, data-based visual essays covering pop culture topics. Founded in 2017, and the winner of the Peabody Award for Digital Journalism that same year, The Pudding focuses on visualizations that engage with complex cultural debates, from serious issues like gender parity to an investigation of which band has “the most emo lyrics”. According to the site, the visual essay as a format holds potential to make ideas more accessible: they can capture audiences who would not otherwise engage with traditional journalism formats such as long-form articles.
The homepage of The Pudding features a timeline of sorts, showcasing essays in sections including “What’s New”, “Our Picks”, and “Greatest Hits”, as well as a “How-To” section that gives users a peek behind the scenes of The Pudding and shares various data visualization hacks. New essays are added weekly. From the homepage, users can navigate to “Archives” for faceted search capabilities and “Topics” for browsing essays by broad topic. At first glance, The Pudding’s focus on popular culture makes it seem like a minimalist, more attractively-designed version of BuzzFeed. At the time of this review, essays on the homepage include “Top-Selling Book Covers, Arranged by Visual Similarity”, “Internet Boy Band Database”, “The Gyllenhaal Experiment”, and “Rappers, Sorted by the Size of their Vocabulary”. However, once a user selects an essay, it quickly becomes clear that The Pudding melds their on-trend voice with serious data chops. Essays are well researched, with most linking directly to reputable sources. Some citations are more scholarly than others, with sources ranging from scholarly academic articles to Vox to The Atlantic. The Pudding’s dedication to high quality and transparent journalism is also reflected in their approach to data. Wherever possible, data sets used in essays are made freely available on The Pudding’s GitHub repository.
An essay currently featured on the site is “Women’s Pockets are Inferior”, by Jan Diehm and Amber Thomas. As users navigate through the essay, they encounter a narrative introduction to the issue (along with references), scroll-driven animations of findings, an interactive portion in which users can select items to test the fit in an average pocket, and a search function that queries all of the jeans covered in the study. Like all essays on The Pudding, the authors include an extensive methodology section, with thoughtful engagement about potential limitations, as well as a freely downloadable data set.
Overall, The Pudding provides a high-quality user experience. Essays are mobile-responsive, and the interactive nature of the content allows users to go at their own pace, diving deeper into visualizations at will. Since the types of visualizations differ greatly, from graph to GIF, essays include helpful hints to orient users. For example, a music-focused essay includes an introductory note recommending that the user turn on their sound or use headphones.
Users interested in developing skills in data analysis, coding, or design are likely to appreciate The Pudding’s openness with data, APIs, and other tools. The Pudding also maintains a Youtube channel of team coding projects and and a public backlog of story ideas, along with detailed instructions on how to pitch ideas for possible freelance work with the publication. Students are likely to appreciate The Pudding’s transparency of sources, which is increasingly important from an information literacy standpoint. Another helpful point for students and educators alike is that The Pudding is freely available, with most of the agency’s revenue from reader-funded donations via Patreon, sponsored essays, and for-hire projects through a sister agency.
Data visualizations are becoming ubiquitous, but The Pudding has carved out a place in the journalism landscape that goes beyond infographics. Educators might find the site especially useful in instruction around visual literacy, new media, journalism, and information literacy. Students are likely to appreciate the site’s fresh voice, skillful engagement with research, and willingness to push the margins on pop culture’s burning questions.