Recipe for Success: At the Rejuvenated Atlanta Press Club, Boozing Is Passe, and Journalism Programs Are De Rigueur

Article excerpt

THE ATLANTA Press Club lacks a bar -- but not members.

Despite its nondescript headquarters -- a couple of rooms in the CNN Center shopping mall, down the hall from a convenience store -- the club is resurgent, a glaring anomaly at a time when press clubs around the country are fading into oblivion, victims of shrinking city press legions and changing journalistic culture.

The 30-year-old Atlanta Press Club, on the other hand, boasts a record 555 members -- two-thirds of them working journalists. The rest are public relations practitioners, students, academics and retirees.

The prosperity is relatively recent, however. It took a "revolution" to turn the club around, said past president Maria Saporta, a business columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

By the late 1980s, the club was floundering. "It had become a PR club, as opposed to a journalists club," Saporta said. "No self-respecting journalist would be caught in the press club," she said, not even her.

Then the journalists arose, led by Anita Sharpe, a Wall Street Journal reporter. They raised dues for PR members to $150 a year, five times the $30 journalists pay, and revoked voting rights of PR members, two of whom sit on the club's 18-member board.

And the club was lucky to find a benefactor in CNN president Tom Johnson, a refugee from print journalism who has been a strong supporter and allowed the club free office space.

The club's new strategy hinged on hiring an executive director, rejecting the idea of a costly bar operation, maintaining a ratio of two journalists for every PR person, holding down dues for journalists, and a strong agenda of programs.

While a lot of PR people initially fled, plunging membership to about 200, the ranks have since regenerated.

"It's become a true journalists club," Saporta said. "Most PR people will tell you that it is a far more valuable club because they have true interaction with journalists."

There is no bar in the club proper -- because journalists simply don't booze it up as much as they once did -- but in deference to the drinkers, the club also meets at its unofficial watering hole, Manuel's Tavern. …