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According to the US government, “Freedom of the press is an essential right in the United States and a core principle of democracy. Protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a free press helps maintain the balance of power in government.”
That is certainly the role of the free press as I learned it in journalism school in the late 1990s. However, if you search up “what is the purpose of a free press?” today, you gain new insight into why Americans are starving for legitimate news in 2023:
“...to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives…”
“...to inform people about current, new affairs and to tell about the latest gossip and fashion…”
“...shaping public awareness and providing information that shapes attitudes and public opinion…”
With few exceptions, the Colorado local media is part of this nanny-state, narrative circus. Left- and right-leaning outlets across the state present Coloradans with stories, wrapped in emotion, intending to shape their audience’s attitudes and opinions. Rarely do our local news outlets aim to stand as the fourth estate in Colorado, deliver transparency, and help maintain the balance of power in government.
The Colorado Free Press is ambitiously attempting to change that.
When I sat down to talk with Col. Jim Zietlow (USAF, Retired), Editor-in-Chief of the new Colorado Free Press, I wasn’t expecting to fill a notebook with just his experience, but I came close. Born in a small Wisconsin town of 6,000, Zietlow’s resume reads like a military-centric reimagining of Forrest Gump.
Zietlow graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1987, is a decorated pilot, and had a front row seat to US history over the past three decades.
Zietlow flew C5 cargo jets through the mid-90s, including during the Rwandan relief effort following the genocide in that country in 1994. In 1997, he went to work at the Pentagon. During his time there, Zietlow managed the Air National Guard's C5 and C17 programs, and began serving as the Air Force Legislative Liaison after separating from the Air Force and just before September 11, 2001. His former Air National Guard Pentagon office in the years 1997 - 1999 was in the path of American Airlines Flight 77.
After separating, Zietlow continued his role as legislative liaison, working closely with Senator Trent Lott and others, while simultaneously flying as a commercial pilot with United Airlines. His commercial stint didn’t last long though, as United furloughed Zietlow just after 9/11, and he returned to the military as an Active Duty Reservist. This time, Zietlow was sent to fight terrorists at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs.
Zietlow is one of just 150 founding members of the US Northern Command and, between NORAD and Peterson AFB, Zietlow oversaw large Homeland Defense programs and budgets with the focus on radar systems. Through the characteristic tight-lipped responses I’ve come to expect from Air Force Colonels, Zietlow shared his role in post mortem analysis of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster and in the astronaut rescue planning for Shuttle Discovery in Columbia’s shadow. He was there to scale the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort from four helicopters to 339 to conduct unprecedented rooftop rescues after the storm. His fingerprints are on the 2006 FEMA Joint Field Operation Manual, and the reimagining of US hurricane response in Katrina’s wake.
In 2007, Zietlow worked on Global pandemic response, developing a baseline for the US Department of Defense culminating in the DOD’s Global Pandemic Influenza Plan – which he says they largely abandoned during the 2020 pandemic. Zietlow became a Full Bird Colonel in 2008 and was named the Deputy Command Center Director, then Command Center Director, at NORAD.
During his time in NORAD, which he would only describe as a “highly dynamic environment,” Zietlow oversaw US Northern Command’s response to the Fort Hood mass shooting and Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the attempted hijacking by suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, better known as the, “underwear bomber.”
Zietlow retired from military service in 2010 and returned to United Airlines where he worked until 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Colorado Free Press is part of the CDM family of brands, joining The Georgia Record and The Miami Independent and a dozen others in providing international, and local domestic news, analysis, and opinion content. CDM is the brainchild of CEO L. Todd Wood, also a US Air Force Academy graduate, and CDM aims to execute on their brand promise to be the catalyst for the "process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one."
In Colorado, Zietlow’s mission is to deliver the “high interest Colorado news that you need to know, right now,” but it isn’t all politics, legislative overviews, and financial news. Colorado Free Press ambitiously aims to give you content in every category, including Politics, Education, Healthcare, Military News, Crime & Law, Recreation, Faith, Art, Food, Colorado History, Home & Garden, Travel, Events, and more.
In combining this mission with Zietlow’s background and experience, Colorado Free Press offers a distinctive Colorado media experience. For example, El Paso County is home to five military commands and one of the youngest populations in the state, but the unique perspectives of an audience of young soldiers are largely ignored by legacy local press, who cater almost exclusively to the needs of Denver, Boulder, and Vail.
Wood and Zietlow are attempting to fill the vacuum and satiate regular Coloradans’ hunger for truth. Colorado Free Press has more than a dozen contributors at launch, and the editorial team is preparing for rapid growth over the summer.
When I asked Zietlow what problem he and his team were trying to solve with this new publication, he didn’t miss a beat in telling me, “Truth in reporting.”
Such a simple answer, but it seems almost mythological in Colorado in 2023. At a minimum, we need more balanced reporting in Colorado, and Colorado Free Press is stepping into the third ring of our nanny-state narrative circus with a new act.
“We will proclaim the truth as best we can,” Zietlow told me,”and we’ll let it ride from there.”
Ashe Epp is a local writer and a Colorado Free Press contributor. You can find more from Ashe at linktr.ee/asheinamerica.