Bloc by Block News was founded by Kevon Paynter, who serves as executive director and answers the questions below. Other team members are Ptosha Davis, deputy director, and Christina Sturdivant, editorial director.
Tell us about Bloc by Block News. What are you working on?
Bloc by Block News is a news media cooperative and civic-engagement organization helping people tap into what matters most locally.
Our flagship product is the Bloc by Block News app, a one-stop shop for local news and information in counties, cities, towns and neighborhoods throughout Maryland. It will feature hyperlocal content from vetted news publications and media outlets.
We also equip and empower users of our app with citizen reporter training that enables them to report on topics they’d like to see covered in their communities. The result is community-driven news in your pocket.
And as the news cycle continues, we will organize town halls, going beyond the headlines and facilitating resident dialogue about issues affecting neighborhoods. The outcomes are strengthened interconnectedness and learning among neighbors.
Bloc by Block News enables everyday people to participate in news and stay up to date on community issues, and it opens pathways to dialogue with neighbors and local leaders.
Why did you decide to start this? Where did the idea come from?
It started in 2012, following the murder of Trayvon Martin. When a 17-year-old minority was stereotyped and killed, it was hard for me, as an African American male, not to think about my own mortality.
I watched pundits on cable news question if the Skittles in Trayvon’s pockets were colorful weapons or drugs and show photos of him as a teenager holding up his middle finger. It was hardly the treatment a white victim would have received. But what shocked me most was the lack of Black voices in those news conversations, meaning mainstream media painted an incomplete picture of what happened to an innocent Black boy.
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 the news about Trayvon Martin circulated the airwaves, I trekked across the Howard University campus, where I was studying political science at the time, and changed my concentration to communications and cultural studies. I then attended Georgetown University’s journalism master’s program and numerous journalism boot camps, where I built and iterated on the change I wanted to see in the media. Eight years later, many of those lessons found their way into Bloc by Block News.
What would you consider success for Bloc by Block News? How will the world be different when you are successful?
What we’re building is something greater than technology — it is a media cooperative and civic organization that connects residents to media rooted in their backyard. Our events bridge neighbor-to-neighbor connection across economic, racial and geographic divides.
In three to five years, following our successful Bloc by Block News: Maryland pilot, we’ll start expansion, incubate media co-ops, and eventually reaching all 50 states. Each state would have its respective media co-op and a one-stop shop mobile app for local information.
What have you accomplished so far?
We’ve accomplished an incredible amount of innovation and development in coding the mobile app. We plan to complete and ship the app to the app store by July 1.
We’ve raised money to date through nondilutive grants from foundations that believe in our mission.
How can people get involved in supporting you in your venture?
If you’d like to support Bloc by Block News, go to blocbyblocknews.com and sign up to get early access to the app once it launches. We’re also raising funds to launch the full version of our product. Become an investor and grow with us, email email@example.com
What have been some of the biggest challenges in scaling your venture during the pandemic?
COVID-19 has caused us to pivot to organizing virtual town halls. It is an important part of our core mission to organize town halls that go beyond news headlines and take people to the root of the issues that affect their neighborhoods and society at large. We still believe in the role local news can play in civic learning.
Once it is safe and health guidelines permit, we hope Maryland libraries will become key partners and provide the physical space to host our town halls. Libraries are among America’s last remaining public squares, and public spaces are crucial assets for interconnectedness at a time of unprecedented physical, social and political disconnect.
What do you like most about the Baltimore entrepreneurial community? What would you like to see more of?
I love the creativity and dedication entrepreneurs from Baltimore have for the city. Baltimore entrepreneurs are aware of the history of redlining, police brutality and other forms of racial discrimination that have plagued the city, and they design solutions with this in mind. There is a spirit, a resourcefulness, a “nobody can stop us” attitude in Baltimore, and that’s what I love the most.
I’d like to see more collaboration among the K–12 schools, adult education and these entrepreneurs to reach more people where they are and uplift them to dream bigger while providing them resources to do so.
Why did you apply to SIL? What attracted you to SIL?
SIL came at a time when I didn’t know whether I had the funds or energy to continue to build my venture. When I applied to SIL, I didn’t know what to expect. I have since received five months of world-class workshops from leading experts in innovation, strategic one-on-one guidance from the SIL director and awesome support from fellows in the cohort. Now my venture is set to launch in July, and I wouldn’t be here, on the eve of launch, if it hadn’t been for SIL supporting me at the time it did.
Read more about Bloc by Block News here. To learn more about the Social Innovation Lab and the 2020–21 cohort, click here. Join them at our virtual SIL Innovators’ Showcase event, 4–6 p.m. on April 27.