Nicholas Kristof / The Franklin Hotel

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Nick Kristof was just trying to get another cup of coffee.

The New York Times columnist was in Philadelphia for the fall meeting of the American Philosophical Society (a group, mostly, of elderly Nobel laureates, of which Kristof is a member). The Society’s meeting began Thursday, and ended today. Its members, Kristof included, largely stay at the Franklin hotel a few blocks from the Society’s South 5th Street headquarters.

So, around 7 a.m., his wife asleep in their room on the hotel’s seventh floor, Kristof snuck out of his room, making a beeline for the lobby and his second cup of java for the day. He closed the door behind him gently, but — not wishing to disturb his spouse — he didn’t let the door latch.

“In hindsight,” he told Billy Penn by phone this afternoon, “that was a very bad idea.”

He noticed a man in the hallway, but the man didn’t want to share Kristof’s elevator, he said. Kristof headed to the lobby, grabbed a cup of coffee, and about a minute later walked back into his hotel room…

To find the man from the hallway earlier.

“I was confused,” Kristof said. “Frankly, if he had said ‘what are you doing in my room?’ I would have apologized profusely. But he said he was a maintenance man. That didn’t sound right.”

So Kristof yelled to his wife, who (by this point) had awakened, to call the police. And then the “maintenance” man ran.

“I’d been holding him off with my hot cup of coffee,” Kristof said. “But at that point he shoved his way past me, the coffee spilled.”

Cue the chase scene.

Kristof tailed the man down five flights of stairs, where the man claimed that he had a knife, and would stab the columnist if he continued his pursuit.

The threat rang hollow. “I didn’t see any knife,” Kristof said. “I was a little skeptical.”

The chase ended in the Franklin’s restaurant on the hotel’s second floor, where the would-be burglar — who had dropped Kristof’s wife’s purse upon the coffee-laden entrance — dashed through a stairwell. He then charged through a decorative screen — “Sent it flying, jumped over it,” Kristof recalled — and ran down the grand staircase into the hotel lobby… where Kristof jumped him, and a pair of bellmen helped restrain him.

“The American Philosophical Society’s members, who are mostly sort of elderly Nobel laureates, were converging into the lobby as this was happening. And here we have a fight going on,” Kristof said. “It was a quite dramatic way to start the day in Philly.”

The would-be thief got nothing from Kristof’s room, and the columnist — apart from a few tweets, a Facebook posting and a blog post — says that’s the end of things. In other words, no column is coming.

“I don’t think there’s a larger point.”

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Chris Krewson is the executive director of LION Publishers, a national nonprofit association that serves local journalism entrepreneurs build sustainable news organizations, and the founding editor of...