A well-functioning press is crucial for sustaining a healthy democracy. While attacks on journalists occur regularly in many developing countries, previous work has largely ignored where and why journalists are attacked. Focusing on violence by criminal organizations (COs) in Mexico, we offer the first systematic, micro-level analysis of the conditions under which journalists are more likely to be violently targeted. Contrary to popular belief, our evidence reveals that the presence of large, profitable COs does not necessarily lead to fatal attacks against the press. Rather, the likelihood of journalists being killed only increases when rival criminal groups inhabit territories. Rivalry inhibits COs’ ability to control information leaks to the press, instead creating incentives for such leaks to be used as weapons to intensify official enforcement operations against rivals. Without the capacity to informally govern press content, rival criminals affected by such press coverage are more likely to target journalists.