Who Tells the Untold Stories?
In Maryland and D.C., Bloc by Block News Is Building Cooperative Local Media
The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story. — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an acclaimed Nigerian writer, warned us of The Danger of a Single Story, highlighting how the media and literature we consume — often contaminated with stereotypes and bias — comes from an incomplete understanding of peoples’ reality. Our misconceptions about the world come from accepting one experience or one narrow version of reality as the whole truth, reducing someone (or entire groups) to a single story, generalizing complex phenomenons, and jumping to defective conclusions. The author emphasizes how Africa has been historically reduced to a single tale of catastrophe due to how media generically portrays that entire continent.
The same process happens systematically to African-American communities when the media underrepresent their voices and show an incomplete narrative of their stories and struggles. Aware of the storytelling bias against people of color, the journalist and entrepreneur Kevon Paynter founded Bloc By Block News.
Since his early studies as a bachelor’s student of communication and media studies, Kevon started questioning the portrayal of people of color in the media landscape. Along the way, during his master’s studies in journalism at Georgetown University, he envisioned Bloc by Block as a channel for credible news accessibility, amplifying the people’s contact with what happens in their communities.
In the past, discriminatory New Deal-era redlining policies implemented by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Housing Administration created segregated Black or mixed-race neighborhoods. The consequences of redlining remain in many counties nationwide. These areas with low-income, BIPOC families and devalued properties tend to become media deserts, where people have limited access to local news and information.
To tap into this systematic pain, Kevon deployed the old and gold “think globally, act locally” approach. Launching in Baltimore, Maryland, the founders conceived Bloc by Block as a media cooperative to change the local reporting landscape and consolidate a hub of local news written by journalists from diverse backgrounds.
Bloc By Block News is currently incorporated as a multi-stakeholder media cooperative in Washington, DC, led by people of color. Their mission is to bring to the surface the narratives and issues that no one else is talking about, making sure that real community struggles do not remain unnoticed. According to Christina Sturdivant, Editorial Director, their publications “focus on local people, places, and issues that are being underreported or not covered at all in the existing media landscape.”
Historically, black-owned cooperative businesses have been an important foundation of grassroots economic organizing toward collective economic agency and equality for people of color and low-income communities. Their democratic economic participation is a process that calls for recognition of their stories and struggles. Telling their untold stories is fundamental to honoring their experiences and protecting their civil rights, representation, and aspirations in a larger picture.
As a multi-stakeholder cooperative, BxB’s patronage formula includes the staff members, publishers (individuals and organizations), readers, and investors. The idea is to share ownership and governance over the media people consume, following democratic values and a strong set of beliefs.
Media cooperatives like Bloc By Block, The Colorado Sun, and Defector Media, bet on shared ownership and governance to recover grassroots journalism and change the information ecology. They are gaining momentum while the news world tackles the challenges of misinformation, the rising presence of fake news, political bias, and public skepticism. Many writers and editors have been distancing themselves from conventional corporate media outlets to craft their own workplace, seeking editorial freedom, quality publications, loyal readership, and financial stability.
Bloc By Block is a young and growing cooperative that relies on the financial contributions of its members and community through monthly or one-time donations, starting at ten dollars. In addition to the regular contributions through the BxB website, the cooperative is launching an online crowdfunding campaign to attract new funding, boost its growth, and enact better financial stability.
The crowdfunding campaign will fund the Bloc by Block App, expanding the co-op’s presence in the whole state of Maryland. The app, already in development, will collect news from various local outlets, enabling the reader to filter their main interests by county and access information about elections and public policies that directly impact them. BxB’s app would also narrow the distance between local communities and journalists, creating direct contact mechanisms that allow readers to report issues and events in their neighborhoods — telling the untold stories.
Bloc By Block is an alumnus of the Start.coop accelerator class of 2020. Kevon notes that the experience helped launch their media startup into a broader cooperative ecosystem, educating the team about mission-driven, democratic-centered entrepreneurship and providing the resources they needed to launch and grow their media outlet.