How to Build Authority Like a Pro: A Recap of #CJRAtlanta

How to Build Authority Like a Pro: A Recap of #CJRAtlanta

Not long ago, my water heater broke. After fiddling with the pilot light, I realized it wasn’t going to stay lit. In other words, no hot water for me.

So I did what any logical, hot-shower-loving person would do. I called in a plumber.

When something comes up that you can’t handle, you call in the experts. The same strategy applies to literally everything.

House on fire? You call the fire department.

Need to make perfect, fluffy pancakes? You google a recipe.

Want to know how to attract more customers to your business? You read business and marketing blogs.

You turn to the people with authority on that topic.

#CJRAtlanta Recap

Last week, the Columbia Journalism Review hosted a one-day conference in Atlanta called The Year that Changed Journalism.

A lot has gone on the past 12 months, from heated debates about the First Amendment to the invention of “alternative facts.” And all the drama is making waves in the journalism department—but the impact doesn’t stop with reporters.

There are blurred lines now between journalism, politics, and entertainment, as panelist Celeste Headlee of Georgia Public Broadcasting remarked.

And I would argue that the blurred lines reach into the world of content marketing, too. Because you don’t have to write for a major news outlet to do what journalists do: create content to inform readers about a topic.

“Even if you don’t identify as a journalist, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do an act of journalism.”
- Panelist Erik Wemple, media writer, The Washington Post

Unfortunately for content creators, there’s a gaping hole where audience trust used to be. Lack of trust affects all content creators—not just journalists, but also YouTubers, bloggers, business owners, and marketers.

But that doesn’t mean we stop creating content. It simply means that we double down on our process and earn back our audiences’ trust.

3 Ways to build brand authority

The expert panelists at the CJR Atlanta conference discussed the challenges facing journalism today, but also what journalists can do to overcome those obstacles. Luckily for us non-journalists, these tips are transferable to other types of content creation.

Put these lessons into action as you create content, and you’ll be on your way to brand authority and satisfied, trusting readers.

Be objective

CJR Atlanta panelist Glenn Thrush, White House correspondent for The New York Times, said:

“What is true, what is factual, and how one comes about making those determinations is being challenged every single day.”

That’s why objectivity in your content is a good starting point for building brand authority.

Focus on the facts and leave out strong opinions, so readers won’t automatically think you have an agenda or an ulterior motive. Simply present your information in an objective, non-biased way. And cite reputable sources—more on that later.

Be inclusive

At CJR Atlanta, panelist Andra Gillespie, a professor at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, brought up the idea of “othering” people, both at home and abroad.

We see othering in the news media all the time. For example, consider how the news coverage of Hurricane Irma, which largely impacted Texas, versus the coverage of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico.

Is your content inclusive of others? Does it speak to people from different backgrounds, cultures, socio-economic status, and ability level?

Do you even stop to consider those things when you’re writing? Or do you just imagine that your audience is mostly like you?

Taking a step back and thinking about the answers to those questions goes a long way toward ensuring that inclusivity isn’t a stranger to your content.

Be credible

A big theme at the CJR Atlanta conference was documentation, research, and sources. As panelist and media writer for The Washington Post, Erik Wemple, pointed out:

“You have to get more sources, more research for your articles. And if you screw it up, you are done for.”

Just because you know something is a fact, don’t expect your audience to take your word for it. Why should they trust you? Especially if they don’t know your brand yet?

Using credible, third-party sources to back up your content increases your credibility by default.

Find outside sources with a solid reputation, and cite them in your content. Link to them. (Just don’t link to your competitors, obviously.)


Content marketing is hard, but building brand authority doesn’t have to be impossible. Learn from the hard lessons journalists have faced over the past year. Put their collective knowledge to use.

Sit down at your computer and create content that’s objective, inclusive, and credible.

Don’t have time for that? Don’t know where to start?

Call in the experts. Talk to a copywriter about your content needs.

Photo credit: Daniel von Appen


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