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New York Times columnist and former executive editor Bill Keller is leaving the newspaper to become editor in chief of a new nonprofit journalism start-up that will cover the American criminal justice system.

"It's a chance to build something from scratch, which I've never done before," Keller told the Times.

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Bill Keller speaks during the Columnist coversation at the New York Times Schools For Tomorrow Conference at the TimesCenter on Sept. 17, 2013, in New York City.Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for The New York Times file

Keller, 65, won a Pulitizer Prize for international reporting as a correspondent in Moscow. And he covered the last days of apartheid as the Johannesburg bureau chief. He served as executive editor at the paper from 2003 to 2011.

He is slated to begin his leadership position at The Marshall Project on March 1. The nonprofit venture was formed late last year by Neil Barsky, a journalist turned Wall Street hedge fund manager, who will serve as publisher.

Keller told the Times the website will feature "strong original journalism" and an "aggregation of interesting research and interesting voices, including voices from inside prison."