A Pulitzer prize-winning journalist has quit the New York Times after 37 years ahead of a potential run for governor of Oregon.
Nicholas Kristof, 62, renowned for his coverage of human rights issues around the world, filed papers on Tuesday to form a political action committee called “Nick for Oregon”, enabling him to raise money and hire staff for a campaign.
Kristof – whose Twitter bio describes him as “Oregon farmboy turned NY Times columnist” – has been on leave from the newspaper since June while he explored the idea of a career in politics. He recently co-authored a book, Tightrope, about America’s underlying crises.
In a statement to New York Times staff, where he has worked as a reporter, editor and opinion columnist, Kristof said: “This has been my dream job, even with malaria, a plane crash in Congo and periodic arrests abroad for committing journalism. Yet here I am, resigning – very reluctantly.”
He added: “I’ve gotten to know presidents and tyrants, Nobel laureates and warlords, while visiting 160 countries. And precisely because I have a great job, outstanding editors and the best readers, I may be an idiot to leave.
“But you all know how much I love Oregon, and how much I’ve been seared by the suffering of old friends there. So I’ve reluctantly concluded that I should try not only to expose problems but also see if I can fix them directly.”
Kristof won a Pulitzer prize in 1990 along with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, for their reporting on the the protests at Tiananmen Square in China. He won the award again in 2006 for columns about the Darfur conflict in Sudan. His coverage last year highlighting the sexual exploitation of children on the pornography website Pornhub helped force it to introduce reforms.
In the email to the staff announcing his departure, Kathleen Kingsbury, opinion editor of the Times, praised Kristof for “elevating the journalistic form to a new height of public service with a mix of incisive reporting, profound empathy and a determination to bear witness to those struggling and suffering across the globe”.
Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 16 percentage points in Oregon in last year’s presidential election. The state has not elected a Republican governor since 1982, the second longest period of Democratic control in the country.
Kristof grew up on a sheep and cherry farm in Yamhill, a town in the wine-producing Willamette Valley, and his family still owns land in the area.
Papers submitted to Oregon’s secretary of state’s office indicate that Kristof would run as a Democrat to replace the current governor, Kate Brown, who is stepping down because of term limits. But he may struggle to meet Oregon’s three-year residency requirement for governor, given that last year he voted as a resident of New York.
He would also face a keenly contested primary election among candidates including the state house speaker, Tina Kotek, the state treasurer, Tobias Read, and the Yamhill county commissioner, Casey Kulla, all of whom have declared their intention to stand.
Kristof said in an interview in July: “All I know for sure is that we need someone with leadership and vision so that folks from all over the state can come together to get us back on track.”