Óscar Martínez is the co-founder, coordinator, and reporter for "Sala Negra" (Black Room), the investigative unit that covers gang violence for Central America's first online-only newsmagazineEl Faro (The Lighthouse).
After working as a freelance reporter in Mexico, Martínez joined El Faro in 2008 to help carry out an in-depth investigation of Central American migration across Mexico. For two and a half years, he followed migrants as they traveled north and documented the abuses they suffered, including mass kidnappings, rape, human trafficking, and massacres. The reporting project, first featured on El Faro's website under the name El Camino (The Road), was eventually published as a book in 2013 under the title The Beast, the nickname for a network of freight trains that crosses Mexico. Migrants often cling to the back of these trains as they make their way through some of the most lawless and violent towns in Mexico.
In 2011, Martínez co-founded "Sala Negra," which quickly gained a reputation for conducting hard-hitting investigations into extrajudicial killings by police, one of the most taboo subjects in El Salvador. He told CPJ that with the high level of violence in El Salvador, many people see criticism of the police as siding with the gangs. In August 2015, Martínez and a colleague were forced to leave the country for three weeks after receiving repeated death threats for an investigation into the murder of eight alleged gang members by the police.
Martínez has a special security system including panic buttons at his house, and he has said that he worries about taking his 3-year-old daughter to public parks. Still, he told CPJ, "I don't think we've suffered yet even 1 percent of what those who we write about suffer."
CPJ has documented threats against El Faro, including in 2012 after the newspaper published an article describing an organized crime network in the northeast part of the country. A few months after the story ran, the website's staff members reported being followed and photographed by unidentified persons. The founder and director of El Faro, Carlos Dada, told CPJ at the time that he suspected police were following the staff to identify sources mentioned in the article. The minister of security, retired Gen. David Munguía Payés, told CPJ he had no knowledge of anyone following El Faro staff members and that no such order had come from any government office.
Martínez won the Fernando Benítez National Journalism Prize in Mexico in 2008 and Human Rights Prize at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University in El Salvador the following year. He won the WOLA-Duke Book Award for The Beast in 2014. His second book, called A History of Violence, was released in March 2016. In July 2016, Martínez was also awarded the Maria Moors Cabot Prize, which honors journalists for their outstanding coverage of the Americas.