The Missing Linc

Who on earth would want to work at the News these days? Bernie Lincicome, for one.

When members of the local journalism fraternity first heard that Bernie Lincicome would be filling the Rocky Mountain News sports columnist slot vacated by Bob Kravitz, the majority responded with variations on a single question: Why would Lincicome do it? After all, he'd spent the last sixteen years writing for the Chicago Tribune, a generally well-regarded newspaper located in a terrific newspaper town, and he remains beloved by a great many Chicagoans. After his exodus was announced, compliments flowed in from some unexpected quarters: In its September 1 issue, the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly not known for sending bouquets to media mainstreamers, bid him farewell with a piece beneath the flattering headline "Hometown Team Loses an MVP."

Considering all that, it hardly made sense that Lincicome would be coming to a place that won't even have a Sunday paper in a few months, thanks to its second-among-equals role in the News-Denver Post joint operating agreement. (The deadline for public comment on the JOA is October 12, but you can bet that nothing locals say will convince Attorney General Janet Reno that hearings on the issue are necessary.) And that's not to mention all those Rocky scribes who are climbing over each other to get out at the same time Lincicome is settling in. An example? Mike Romano, whose move from the News's Washington, D.C., bureau to its business section was noted in this space on July 27, has already taken his leave in favor of a gig at Chicago's Modern Healthcare, a medical-industry trade publication. News business editor Rob Reuteman, who's filled the Romano slot with ex-Boulder Daily Camera assistant city editor Gil Rudawsky, concedes that this latest defection left him steaming. "He wasted about three months of my time before stiffing me," he says of Romano. "We had words -- but we won't have any more words."

For his part, though, Lincicome seems perfectly satisfied to be plying his trade for the Rocky. A devoted Colorado fan, he says he spoke with both the Post and the News a decade ago about trading in the humid air of Chi-town for some thinner stuff -- and while nothing came of those talks, he purchased a vacation home in Frisco the following year.

However, Lincicome implies that the biggest factor in the move wasn't Denver's well-documented beauty, but his dissatisfaction with the way his old employers were treating him. He started working for the Tribune company in the late '60s, moving from its Fort Lauderdale property, the Sun-Sentinel, to the Trib during the first half of the '80s; for most of that time, he says, his experiences were great. But things began changing a few years back following a management switch and the hiring of Skip Bayless, a high-profile columnist who parlayed gigs at two Dallas dailies into multimedia prominence: He's written several books and served as a commentator for MSNBC and ESPN. Suddenly Bayless was getting the best placement and the plum assignments -- in part, Lincicome believes, because of his work on TV and radio. "He's a much more obvious media person, which I am not," he notes. "I don't know that I'm uncomfortable with it, but I know my strength is my writing, my wit, my insights. So maybe I'm just a dinosaur."

Lincicome's dissatisfaction was mounting when Kravitz announced he was leaving the News for the Indianapolis Star. So he contacted the folks at the Rocky, who were understandably enthusiastic about bringing him aboard. Emboldened by their interest, he went to the big wheels at the Trib, thinking that they'd try to talk him out of leaving. Instead, they made him what he terms "an offer I could refuse," which he did, thereby amplifying bitter feelings on both sides. A brief farewell to Lincicome remains posted on the Tribune's Web site, chicagotribune.com, but none of his writing lingers in its cyber-pages; a search turns up a reference to the section once devoted to his past columns, but its contents have been deleted.

In the meantime, the News has its man, JOA or no JOA. Lincicome says the agreement itself does not give him pause, and neither does the forthcoming disappearance of the Sunday News; his friend Mitch Albom seems to be doing fine despite working for the Detroit Free Press, a JOA junior partner that doesn't publish Sundays. (Of course, Albom is also the author of the mega-bestseller Tuesdays With Morrie, which probably helps.) "I don't know that much about JOAs and who won the war and who lost it," Lincicome adds. "All I know is that I get four chances a week to sit down and try to make people laugh, pay attention or react in some fashion to my silly little mutterings. And I hope they do."

Thus far, he's gotten his wish. On September 5, in just his second column, he incensed the Denver Broncos faithful by concentrating on the deficiencies of quarterback Brian Griese (he wrote that the QB was "still cursed with a librarian's ligaments in his throwing arm") immediately after Griese had the best game of his professional career in a narrow loss to the St. Louis Rams -- and he hasn't let up on him since. That was followed by "The Incredible Shrinking Curiosity," a September 7 piece that identified Colorado Rockies first bagger Todd Helton -- then within striking distance of a .400 batting average (a prospect that soon slipped away)-- as a "cipher" who ought to wear a tag reading, "Hi, My Name is on the Back of My Shirt."

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