On the QT: Smith queues up comeback as WBEZ blogger

Veteran Chicago newspaperman Zay N. Smith, whose Quick Takes column was a popular fixture in the Sun-Times for 13 years, is bringing it back as a blog on the website of Chicago Public Media’s WBEZ-FM (91.5).

Starting May 7, Smith’s Quick Takes will appear three times a week. Additional newcomers to the public radio station’s network of bloggers will be Cheryl Raye-Stout, the longtime Chicago radio sportscaster, and Dennis Rodkin, real estate writer for Chicago magazine.

They’ll join the current lineup of WBEZ bloggers, including Mark Bazer (Interview Show), Lee Bey (architecture), Louisa Chu (food), Alison Cuddy (culture), Jim DeRogatis (music), Justin Kaufmann (news), Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Mission Amy KR), Achy Obejas (city life), John R. Schmidt (history), and Claire Zulkey (pop culture). The bloggers also appear as regular contributors to WBEZ’s on-air programming. (Disclosure: I worked as a blogger for Chicago Public Media from 2009 to 2010.)

For Smith, 62, the move marks the return of Quick Takes after a four-year hiatus. “Every newspaperman is supposed to have a bottle of bourbon and an unfinished novel in his desk drawer,” he said. “I finished them both.”

In many ways a forerunner of contemporary blogs, the daily column was a collection of quirky news items, political punditry and random observations served up with Smith’s wry wit. “He blended the sentimentality of H.L. Mencken with the feather-light touch of a safe cracker,” the Reader’s Michael Miner once wrote of Smith. Readers contributed to many of the column’s running features.

Before starting Quick Takes in 1995, Smith had been an investigative reporter and features writer for the Sun-Times. He played a role in the 1978 Mirage Tavern investigation, in which undercover reporters operated a bar on the Near North Side while documenting numerous city officials accepting bribes.

When the Sun-Times discontinued Quick Takes in 2008, Smith was reassigned as a general assignment reporter. He resigned from the paper the following year.

Readers with long memories may find a touch of irony in Smith’s conversion to blogging. Seven years ago this month, he devoted one of his Quick Takes columns to his editors’ fascination with “the phenomenon of blogs,” claiming that he had “no idea what a blog is” and had been forced to spend a day “desperately searching for [a] definition.”

Not all were amused by Smith’s sarcasm: “It’s a little baffling when a sentient news consumer doesn’t know what Web logs are — they’re written and talked about all the time in the media,” wrote Tribune uberblogger Eric Zorn. “But it’s completely confounding when someone whose main job seems to be culling the news wires for odd and amusing items 'has no idea' what they are and requires more than five minutes to find a definition.”


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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)