Oil and Ink

Magnate inspired by freedom of the press


In the early 1900s, attorney and publisher Carl Magee moved to New Mexico with his wife in the hopes of alleviating her consumption. While here, he bought one newspaper from Senator A. B. Fall. Later, he gave up that paper and founded another which later became the Albuquerque Journal. Magee worked to expose corruption in New Mexican politics, gained some powerful enemies, was attacked in the streets and in a hotel by a judge for things he had written and spent time in court and in jail on libel charges for writing the truth about a judge.

“Carl McGee stood for the need to have a free and open press,” said El Rito Media managing member Harvy Yates Jr., in describing El Rito’s purpose in purchasing what is now a total of five of New Mexico’s community newspapers.

Two years ago, El Rito Media purchased the Rio Grande Sun in Española. Last year it went on to buy the Artesia Daily Press. Now, effective June 1, it will add the Alamogordo Daily News, Carlsbad Current Argus and Ruidoso News to its collection.

“Remarkably to me, I picked up a newspaper recently, a local newspaper,” Yates said. “There was no local story or editorial. Even though it has the name of a local paper, they are just filling pages with other stuff. I hope to fill pages with local and regional news relevant to the reader in that area.”

He called the appropriation of the New Mexico newspapers an experiment asking the question: “Can a formula for the salvation of local community newspapers be derived?”

The papers will report on graduations, deaths, marriages, robberies, problems with local government and so forth, Yates said. When the company came in to manage the Rio Grande Sun, people in the community were angry with the paper, claiming everything covered was negative. The Sun continues to report on crime, but now is also focused on writing about the good in the community.

“So, we have created a better newspaper,” Yates said. “We are beginning to understand the communities.”

The papers will continue to have internet presence and it will take time to get reporters and other staff back into the swing of the communities, he said.

“I hope that the readership is patient,” Yates said. “It’s also going to take the commitment of local advertisers. Without that, it will be a failed experiment. It has got to have revenue.”

El Rito’s hope is that with the local news, investment in community, local events, opinions and stories, the advertisers will participate in the newspapers again.

Yates was born in Artesia, grandson of Martin Yates Jr.

“My grandfather, born in 1910, discovered the first real commercial field in New Mexico in 1924,” Yates said. “I know he went to work, and he was sure going to put every one of his five sons to work keep them out of trouble and let them learn a little bit.”

Those five sons went to work in the oil fields when they were 14 and when it was young Harvey’s turn, he, too, went to work in the fields at 14. Today, at 80, Yates is referred to as an oil magnate and has holdings across the state, well known in southeast New Mexico.

“My father hired a fellow, Jimmy Monroe, who went in World War II as a private, came out as captain,” Yates said, remembering his introduction to the oil field as a boy. “He said to me, ‘see that pile of rock? I went to work there breaking up rock for $1.50 a day,’ and that stayed with me.”

Yates grew up working in the oil field and a farm and then ranching a little later. He went to school in Artesia and ran for president of Artesia student council.

“I won it and haven’t run for office since then,” he said, “except for Republican chair if you count that.” Yates served as the state Republican Party chair from 2009 through 2010. He was later elected to represent the state party at the Republican National Committee in 2016.

Attending the University of Texas, Yates studied geology, science, government and history. When he graduated, he came back to New Mexico and worked for his father for a good while. He read about Magee and took that history to heart.

When asked if the readers can be brought back to the newspapers, Yates said he has had people call him to express their interest and support.

“We will see,” he said. “I cannot answer that question right now. What I hear is [positive]. We are willing to stick with it for a good while. I think we have vibrant business communities.”

The investors backing El Rito Media first attracted attention when the group purchased the Rio Grande Sun. Among the investors were political figures like Yates as well as Ryan Cangiolosi, another former state GOP chairman, and state Rep. Joseph Sanchez of Alcalde, a Democrat.

Addressing questions about political influence over the Rio Grande Sun’s reporting, publisher Richard Connor, an investor in El Rito Media, told Searchlight New Mexico in 2022 he was calling the shots in the newsroom, not the ownership: “And I gotta say that there has been absolutely not one ounce of interference, not one.”

El Rito Media papers will cover local news, Yates said. The company will stand behind its reporters so long as they have followed the law.

“We know that there is so much to be exposed in New Mexico in terms of money that needs to be reported on and there is so much to do,” he said. “You first have to get the newspapers up and running. A local newspaper helps make a community, and strong communities are important to our state and nation.”