Bob Smizik: Ask Bob anything

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With apologies to the eye-pleasing but monumentally unimportant Penguins-Chicago Blackhawks game scheduled for Soldier Field tonight, and the non-eye-pleasing and almost as unimportant Pitt at Notre Dame basketball matchup a few hours earlier, but it’s a slow sports Saturday.

Last we heard, the NHL was keeping a close eye on the Chicago weather, where the temperatures might be in single digits by the time the outdoor hockey game ends. A postponement would draw the ire of hockey aficionados, who want to revel in their misery and be able to say they were there.

The Penguins, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, and the Blackhawks, tied for No. 1 in the West, are both headed for the playoffs and whatever points they might pick up tonight won’t likely mean much once the unpredictable Stanley Cup playoffs begin.

With 21 wins and a minimum of four games remaining, it’s hard to envision Pitt not being invited to the NCAA tournament. At 15-14, if the Irish are hoping for a postseason bid, it won’t be to the Dance.

The Pirates, 2-1 in exhibition games, play Tampa Bay at Bradenton this afternoon in a game that will garner the attention of the hard-core fans, but few others.

And so it is, with nothing of consequence on our plate, that we cast a net for future articles. Yes, it is the ever-so-often plea for question that eventually will evolve into another "Ask Bob Anything."

This is an occasional feature, which last ran Nov. 1, 2013. I will answer almost all questions readers may choose to ask, except those on local media personalities. If you have a question, post it below.

That Nov. 1 column, where the subjects of local high school basketball, Jackie Sherrill and the duties of a newspaper beat reporter were discussed, yielded one question. Hopefully, this plea will generate more.

On to that one questions:

Marnie Levine, Colorado: Why did you decide to become a columnist? Is there a natural progression (career ladder) from beat reporter to columnist generally, or could you have stayed a beat reporter if you wanted?

As I’ve written before, I kind of stumbled into newspaper reporting after a four-year stint in teaching following my college graduation. Understandably, I did not enter with high aspirations. I covered high school sports for two years, the Penguins for one, the Pirates for six and Pitt football and basketball for five for The Pittsburgh Press. During most of that time, I never gave a thought to being a columnist, although, as was the custom back in the day for beat reporters, I wrote the occasional column.

While I was on the Pitt beat in the early 1980s, my boss, Ernie DeFillipi, pushed me for the columnist job with his bosses -- who did not agree. I had never really given the job much thought, but Ernie’s support kind of lit a spark. All of a sudden I had some ambition. When a change in management occurred at the Press -- mid-level and high -- the job was offered and I gladly accepted.

Sports staffs at newspapers vary in size, but in every circumstance there are always a lot more reporters than columnists, so it’s not exactly a natural progression. There’s a lot of luck involved, too. My time came at the right time, when the reporting ranks at the Press were not thick with potential columnists. (Phil Musick had left a reporter’s job at the Press about six years earlier for a columnist job at the Post-Gazette.)

Some guys prefer to stay as beat reporters and I can understand why. A columnist job might seem more glamorous but the pay scale is pretty much the same and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with covering a beat. It’s definitely more fun.

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Again, please post any questions on any subject below.

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