By Kevon Paynter
In a few short months, I will officially launch Bloc by Block News and its companion app.
Unlike the majority of America’s news outlets, BxB News is cooperative. It’s owned by everyday people who have a shared interest in receiving and creating trustworthy news about their communities.
Folks who become members of the coop will have an ownership stake in the journalism they consume. They’ll have opportunities for training to deepen their knowledge of the news landscape in order to make more informed decisions about what’s happening in their communities. They’ll engage in honest conversations among neighbors and community leaders. And they will be equipped to hold people in power accountable for their actions, policies, and decisions.
The app, called Bloc by Block News: Maryland, will be a one-stop shop for trustworthy news and information about what’s happening in the state of Maryland, its counties, cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Publications and journalists featured on the app will be curated and vetted by BxB News staff. By identifying news deserts and holes in media coverage, our editorial team will fill in the gaps in Maryland’s news ecosystem. They will write original articles that center people who have been historically marginalized by mainstream media.
My team and I are excited to join a small but mighty group of civically minded media outlets that are working with—not against—the communities they seek to serve. As I urge you to come along with us on this journey, I’d like to share what got me here—a few pivotal moments that led me to be fed up with how the news media currently operates.
I changed my major from political science to journalism because of Trayvon Martin
It all started in 2012, following the murder of Trayvon Martin. When this seventeen-year-old minority was stereotyped and killed by a member of America’s majority, it was hard not to think about my own mortality.
I watched pundits ceasely “analyze” the tragedy on cable news. They questioned if the skittles in his pockets were colorful weapons and showed photos of him holding up a middle finger. It was hardly the treatment that a white victim would have received. But what shocked me most was the lack of Black voices in those conversations. With their absence, mainstream media was left to paint an incomplete picture of what happened to an innocent Black boy.
In those moments, the media’s role in shaping public opinion became apparent to me.
I recognized the need for people of various races, genders, and economic statuses to own their narratives and actively shape how their stories are portrayed.
As this tumultuous news cycle drug on, I trekked across Howard University’s campus, where I was studying political science at the time. With my mind resolute, I changed my concentration to communications and cultural studies.
I was woefully unprepared to vote in local elections
Four years later, on the eve of the 2016 election, I sat in the living room of my childhood home in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. At the time, I was halfway through my Georgetown University master’s degree in journalism and thought myself to be a high-information voter. But immediately after opening my ballot, I realized how unprepared I was to participate in local elections despite more than a year of following national election coverage on cable news.
On that day, I saw how crucial local elections are. They determine everything from a town’s mayor to its school board members, state legislators, and court judges. I started speaking with neighbors and learned they also felt ill-equipped and under-informed to participate in this democratic process.
It could have been because, like me, their eyes were glued to national election coverage (granted, this national election season like no other—the specter of the first woman president, the bluster of Donald Trump, and the Access Hollywood tapes) while attention to local elections were left on the peripheral. Throughout the contested election cycle, I also heard people tell me their trust in news was fading, and I read studies that reinforced their sentiment. This further lit a fire under me.
I realized that civic organizing can—and should—happen on any and every block possible
Two years later, in the heart of Seattle, I discovered Town Hall—a community of neighbors who engaged and participated in events to discuss civics, the arts, and neighborhood topics of importance. Each year, more than 110,000 people came together inside the Town Hall building—except in 2018 because it was undergoing renovations.
That year, Town Hall rented spaces around the city to host their events. That’s when I realized civic spaces don’t need to be confined to a location. They could happen in libraries, parks, homes, and community centers—wherever the people are.
I took a chance on my idea and received unexpected validation
Many of these lessons found their way into a final project for my entrepreneurial journalism class in grad school. I called it the “Watchdog” app.
At the suggestion of a friend, I applied to the Voqal Media Fund—this time I named my project Bloc By Block News. Though pitching an idea and winning the award typically has a 20% success rate, I won the grant. This was the first funding award I applied to for this project. That validation propelled me to move forward.
Since receiving the Voqal award, I’ve been working non-stop to make Bloc by Block News come to fruition. I’ve been awarded more grants and recruited a diverse term of journalists, app developers, and business consultants. Together, we’re building a media organization that we hope will increase access to trustworthy news, while equipping people with tools to own their own stories, participate in civil discourse, and transform their surroundings.
Simply put, we envision communities where people from all backgrounds are not only informed, but actively engaged in the politics and social movements in their cities and towns.
Want to get involved? Shoot me an email at email@example.com and stay tuned to this page for more updates!