“I was going in a neuroscience direction but loved music and journalism,” she says. It was only when she saw Matt’s work that she realized she could bring all her skills together.
In our conversation, punctuated by me fumbling through my question list because I wanted to ask them everything, we discussed the processes they go through to create amazing visualizations as well as the ways they measure success and keep the lights on.
Each week, The Pudding journalists gather for a meeting in which each person brings along an idea for a story.
It might sound like an editorial meeting in a newsroom, but The Pudding isn’t tied to tight deadlines or particular fields of interest.
“We don’t have assignments, we don’t have desks. It [The Pudding] gives people a place to explore topics they’re passionate about,” says Russell.
And there are plenty of topics to cover. As Caitlyn explains: “We all have different backgrounds – Amber was a marine biologist – and that breeds the interesting ideas people come up with.”
Going from an idea to a fully formed data visualization takes time, collaboration, and scrutiny. On average, Russell says, each project takes about a month to come to fruition.
In terms of starting out, Caitlyn says, “The heart of The Pudding process is finding a question you want to answer.”
The dataset you need might not even exist, but that doesn’t stop the team. When they studied driving times to abortion clinics in the US they had to build out the dataset themselves.
As Russell says, “Often the dataset doesn’t exist, but the data is out there.”
Skills and success
So what does it take to become a member of The Pudding team?
“We pride ourselves on our diverse skill set, but everyone needs to code and write to a degree,” Russell says.
At the same time, as Caitlyn explains, it’s much harder to teach someone to tell stories and bring curiosity to their work than it is to teach them to code.
When I ask her what makes a good visualization, her answer is simple: “The story. Something could be really beautiful and really cool but I’m getting nothing from it. It has to have an interesting point, not just saying water is wet.”