Nonetheless, if you think it’s difficult for me to trust someone, it’s much more difficult for them. Once you start talking to someone, whether it’s someone with a uniform, or in a military outfit, or just a regular Joe, that person may be representing a drug cartel. And once you begin associating with that person, you’re basically putting your life on the line because that person may feel he or she owns you.

Another strategy that I’ve seen, especially with my Mexican colleagues, is that they will reach out to the foreign press. They’ll say, “Here’s a story that I have verified, but we can’t run it. You may want to check it out.” It can work both ways: they’ll have to vet it with colleagues, because they may be working for a cartel, and trying to sell you a storyline. So you have to be really careful.

It seems like a journalist working down in Mexico is in a position where they wouldn’t actually want to make a name for themselves, they wouldn’t want to be known as a good investigative journalist, because they wouldn’t want to draw attention to themselves.

Yes, and it’s especially true in the provinces, outside of Mexico City, and on the border. It’s all based on geography. There are some areas of Mexico where journalists have more freedom than they do in others. For instance, in Juárez, because it’s so huge and so vast, reporters surprisingly have more freedom to report than in a smaller community, where everybody knows who you are, and where you stick out like a sore thumb. In Mexico City, I still think you have some very good investigative journalists. But you’re right: once you make a name for yourself you almost live in paranoia. I’ve been around journalists in Mexico City when, we’ll be having lunch, and they’re just looking around, they’re so nervous the whole time. Other people live like hermits; they barely get out. Then there are others who have made such a name for themselves that, though they’re not invincible, it helps their security situation. In the end, if you get that close, if you threaten their pocketbooks so much, there are journalists who have been pulled out, or who have on their own have left. Some have gotten political asylum [in the U.S.]; others have gone to Canada or to Spain. It just depends on how deep you’re getting.

What are your personal limits? When will you say, “I started work on this story, but now I realize it’s not worth it, it’s too dangerous”?

It depends on what day of the week you ask me. There are days when I wake up in the morning, and I just feel so scared, that I know that’s the end, I’m not going to cover that story anymore. And then there are days when you’re talking to a victim, and you feel their sense of resiliency, their courage, their sense of hope, and you think, you have to find a way to put a human face on this issue, otherwise they all become numbers. So you’re constantly balancing the two: the fear versus the total silence. I mean, there are some regions of Mexico that have fallen into silence: you don’t hear much, you don’t see much, you don’t know much. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I was born in Mexico, but I feel, personally, a deep sense of responsibility to try to get the story out, one way or another.

Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner