An award-winning local journalist and Agence France-Presse contributor who reported on violent drug gangs in northwestern Mexico was shot dead in the street Monday, a judicial source told AFP.

Javier Valdez, 50, was shot near the premises of Riodoce, a Mexican news weekly he founded, in his northwestern hometown of Culiacan, the source said.

Valdez was the fifth journalist killed this year in a country plagued by drug violence and corruption, according to officials and media rights groups.

The attack “was outside the premises of Riodoce… he was shot,” the judicial source said.

“Forensic staff are at the scene at this very moment carrying out technical analyses.”

– Deadly country for journalists –

Mexico ranks third in the world for the number of journalists killed, after Syria and Afghanistan, according to media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) this month said “Mexico’s press is caught in a deadly cycle of violence and impunity.”

Violence — including killings of journalists — surged in Mexico after the government launched a military campaign against drug gangs a decade ago.

In response to that, Valdez founded Riodoce with two colleagues.

It became a source of reference for news about the drug war in a state where other media self-censored for fear of violence.

– Living in danger –

Over a nearly 30-year career, Valdez became one of the most renowned journalists in Sinaloa.

The state is home to one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels.

“Being a journalist is like being on a blacklist,” Valdez said at a launch of his last book about drug gangs.

“Even though you may have bulletproofing and bodyguards, (the gangs) will decide what day they are going to kill you.”

He wrote about the Sinaloa drug cartel and its founder Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Guzman is currently in jail awaiting trial in the United States. His arrest sparked a fierce power struggle for control of the cartel.

– Smiling under pressure –

Valdez worked for the national daily newspaper La Jornada and the local weekly Riodoce.

He had also been a local contributor to AFP for more than 10 years.

He was known for his smile and white Panama hat. Journalists who worked with him said he kept his sense of humor despite the pressures of his job.

He said he was committed to journalism even though speaking out could lose him friends.

“The better you do journalism and the more passionate you are about it, the more alone you end up,” he told La Jornada in an interview.

– Award-winning coverage –

In 2011, the CPJ gave Valdez an International Press Freedom Award for his coverage of the victims of the drug war.

Last year, he published a book about drug gangs and the media.

He also published titles about women’s and children’s experiences of drug violence.

Mexico has seen 102 journalists murdered since 2000, according to RSF. Last year, 11 journalists were killed there overall.

“It is a tough job and it keeps getting worse,” Valdez said recently.

“But someone has to do it, right?”

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