Howard Berkes

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.

Since 2010, Berkes has focused mostly on investigative projects, beginning with the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 workers died. Since then, Berkes has reported on coal mine and workplace safety, including the safety lapses at the Upper Big Branch mine, other failures in mine safety regulation, the resurgence of the deadly coal miners disease black lung and weak enforcement of grain bin safety as worker deaths reached a record high. Berkes was part of the team that collaborated with the Center for Public Integrity in 2011 resulting in Poisoned Places, a series exploring weaknesses in air pollution regulation by states and EPA.

Before moving into his current role, Berkes spent a decade serving as NPR's first rural affairs correspondent. His reporting focused on the politics, economics and culture of rural America.

Based in Salt Lake City, Berkes reported on the stories that are often unique to non-urban communities or provide a rural perspective on major issues and events. In 2005 and 2006, he was part of the NPR reporting team that covered Hurricane Katrina, emphasizing impacts in rural areas. His rural reporting also included the effects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on military families and service men and women from rural America, including a disproportionate death rate from this community. During multiple presidential and congressional campaigns, Berkes has covered the impact of rural voters on those races.

Berkes has also covered eight summer and winter Olympic games, beginning with the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, through the 2012 games in London. His reporting in 1998 about Salt Lake City's Olympic bid helped transform a largely local story about suspicious payments to the relatives of members of the International Olympic Committee into an international ethics scandal that resulted in Federal and Congressional investigations.

Berkes' ongoing reporting of Olympic politics and the Olympic Games has made him a resource to other news organizations, including The PBS Newshour, MSNBC, A&E's Investigative Reports, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the French magazine L'Express, Al Jazeera America and others. When the Olympics finally arrived in Salt Lake City, Berkes' coverage included rides in a bobsled and on a luge sled in attempts to help listeners understand how those sports work. Berkes was part of the reporting team that earned NPR a 2009 Edward R. Murrow Award for Sports Reporting for coverage of the Beijing Olympics.

In 1981, Berkes pioneered NPR's coverage of the interior of the American West and public lands issues. He's traveled thousands of miles since then, to every corner of the region, driving ranch roads, city streets, desert washes, and mountain switchbacks, to capture the voices and sounds that give the region its unique identity.

Berkes' stories are heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. His analysis of regional issues was featured on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Berkes has also been a substitute host of Morning Edition and Weekend All Things Considered.

An easterner by birth, Berkes moved west in 1976, and soon became a volunteer at NPR member station KLCC in Eugene, Oregon. His reports on the 1980 eruptions of Mt. St. Helens were regular features on NPR and prompted his hiring by the network. Berkes is sometimes best remembered for his story that provided the first detailed account of the attempt by Morton Thiokol engineers to stop the fatal 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Berkes teamed with NPR's Daniel Zwerdling for the report, which earned a number of major national journalism awards. In 1989, Berkes followed up with another award-winning report that examined NASA's efforts to redesign the Space Shuttle's rocket boosters.

Berkes has covered Native American issues, the militia movement, neo-nazi groups, nuclear waste, the Unabomber case, the Montana Freemen standoff, polygamy, the Mormon faith, western water issues, mass shootings and more. His work has been honored by many organizations, including the American Psychological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, the Harvard Kennedy School and the National Association of Science Writers.

Berkes has also trained news reporters, consulted with radio news departments, and served as a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. In 1997, he was awarded a Nieman Foundation Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University.

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8:45am

Tue January 10, 2012
The Two-Way

The Cost Of A Life: Mine Disaster Settlement Talks Enter Fifth Day

The emotionally charged task of putting price tags on the lives of coal miners killed in the nation's deadliest mine disaster in 40 years continues for a fifth day in West Virginia.

Sources familiar with the mediation talks say the families of 13 Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims are still considering settlement of wrongful death claims with mine owner Alpha Natural Resources.

Six families settled yesterday in mediated negotiations that began Friday at a resort in Glade Springs, W. Va.

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7:20am

Thu January 5, 2012
The Two-Way

Denver Reconsiders The Olympics Despite Dumping 1976 Games

Originally published on Thu January 5, 2012 12:37 pm

February 1976: The Winter Olympics were moved to Innsbruck, Austria, after Denver decided it couldn't host them.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

It may be the most insulting snub in Olympic history. After seeking and winning the right to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, the city of Denver backed out of the games. Colorado voters rejected public funding of the Olympics in 1972 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was forced to turn to Innsbruck, Austria, the host city eight years earlier.

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2:00am

Fri December 9, 2011
U.S.

Report: Federal Agency Shares Blame In Mine Blast

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released its final report this week into last year's West Virginia mine explosion. That explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 workers. The government has maintained that the company that owned the mine, Massey Energy, didn't do enough to prevent the accident. Now, documentation obtained by NPR indicates that the government didn't do enough, either.

4:50am

Wed December 7, 2011
The Two-Way

Internal Probe, Criminal Charges Still Pending In W.Va. Mine Disaster

It's been a busy week for the 29 families of the coal miners who lost their lives last year in the explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

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3:43am

Tue December 6, 2011
U.S.

Settlement Reported In West Virginia Mine Disaster

Originally published on Tue January 17, 2012 1:32 pm

The owner of West Virginia's Upper Big Branch coal mine is reportedly ready to pay slightly more than $200 million to settle civil and criminal claims resulting from the explosion that killed 29 people last year.

The settlement was first reported by the Charleston Gazette, and some details were confirmed by NPR. A private briefing about the settlement is scheduled Tuesday morning for the families of the victims. A public announcement is set later in the morning.

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11:32am

Wed November 30, 2011
The Two-Way

Despite Warnings From Inspector, One Iowa Town Still Battles Toxic Air

Originally published on Wed November 30, 2011 11:35 am

The Grain Processing Corp. plant in Muscatine, Iowa.
Chris Hamby Center for Public Integrity

4:55am

Thu November 17, 2011
The Two-Way

EPA Takes Action Against Toxic Arizona Copper Plant

Originally published on Thu November 17, 2011 10:40 am

A haze can be seen at night hovering over the Asarco copper smelter, which turns copper ore into nearly pure copper bars.
Emma Schwartz Center for Public Integrity

3:00am

Thu November 10, 2011
Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

EPA Regulations Give Kilns Permission To Pollute

The Ash Grove Cement Kiln, as seen from an aerial photograph, sits on the northern edge of Chanute, Kan.
David Gilkey NPR

Part three of a four-part series, Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities.

The smokestack stands more than nine stories above the southeastern Kansas prairie and the small city of Chanute, and it's bright, white flashing lights are like a beacon in the night sky.

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3:00am

Mon November 7, 2011
Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

Oklahoma Town Battles Powdery Carbon Pollution

Originally published on Thu November 10, 2011 11:55 am

The Continental Carbon plant sits on the southern outskirts of Ponca City, Okla. Residents blamed the plant, which produces a black dust known as carbon black, for polluting their city.
David Gilkey NPR

Part 2 of a four-part series, Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

Karen Howe couldn't believe her luck. As a single mom working a minimum-wage job and living with two kids in a crowded one-bedroom apartment in Ponca City, Okla., she was desperate for a three-bedroom house and a lawn.

Howe, a member of the Ponca tribe, was offered tribal housing in a small, tree-lined subdivision of 11 homes on the southern, rural edge of the city.

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9:43am

Fri October 28, 2011
The Two-Way

West Virginia Prosecutor Defends Long Mine Disaster Investigation

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette has a story this morning featuring a rare interview with the U.S. Attorney for West Virginia, who says prosecutors are exploring more serious charges against senior Massey Energy officials in last year's deadly explosion at the company's Upper Big Branch mine.

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8:30am

Tue October 25, 2011
The Two-Way

Union: W. Va. Mine Disaster Was 'Industrial Homicide'

The United Mine Workers report.

NPR

The United Mine Workers union (UMWA) is out with its own report this morning about last year's Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 workers died.

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1:08pm

Fri September 23, 2011
The Two-Way

10 Years Later, Remembering One Of The Nation's Worst Mine Disasters

Ten years ago today, as a horrified America struggled to respond to the September 11 attacks, 13 coal miners died in multiple explosions at the Jim Walter Resources coal mine in Brookwood, Alabama.

The overwhelming and justifiable attention to the thousands of deaths in New York, The Pentagon and Pennsylvania 12 days before kept the Jim Walter mine disaster in the shadows. It was the nation's worst mine disaster in nearly two decades and it involved a methane gas explosion, a familiar danger underground.

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3:18pm

Wed August 31, 2011
The Two-Way

Feds Still Finding Problems At Old Massey Mines

Originally published on Wed August 31, 2011 4:04 pm

Federal mine safety regulators have discovered false reporting of accidents and injuries at two West Virginia coal mines once owned by Massey Energy, which also owned the mine hit by a deadly explosion last year.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) says the Randolph and Justice No. 1 mines in Boone County, W.Va., inaccurately reported or neglected to report 24 injuries last year that resulted in 1,125 lost days of work.

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4:57pm

Mon August 29, 2011
The Two-Way

Polygamist Warren Jeffs In Critical Condition

Warren Jeffs arrives at the Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas, on July 29, 2011.
Tony Gutierrez AP

Three weeks after a conviction for child sexual abuse, polygamist leader Warren Jeffs remains in critical but stable condition in a Texas hospital.

Jeffs, 55, was rushed from prison Sunday night to a hospital in Tyler, Tx. Officials there refuse to discuss Jeffs' condition but a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) says Jeffs was hospitalized after a three-day fast.

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1:58pm

Mon August 22, 2011
The Two-Way

United States Says No To 2020 Olympic Bid

American fans of the Olympics will have to travel abroad for at least another decade if they want to cheer from the stands at one of the world's biggest sporting events. The U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) announced today that there will be no American bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Actually, the news was Tweeted by USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky. "I can confirm the US will not be bidding for 2020 Olympic Games," Sandusky wrote to his Twitter followers.

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8:25am

Fri August 19, 2011
The Two-Way

Schism, New Indictments Follow Polygamist Leader's Conviction

A letter sent by email and snail mail urges the followers of polygamist leader and convicted pedophile Warren Jeffs to "come clean ... or you are going down with the wicked and the damned."

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6:47am

Wed August 17, 2011
The Two-Way

White House Overstates Rural Role In Military

There they sat with the President of the United States at the Old Market Deli in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, five veterans of our two most recent wars. With a turkey sandwich on his plate, Mr. Obama acknowledged their service, and the disproportionate sacrifice small towns and rural counties have made in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military in general.

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12:09pm

Tue August 9, 2011
The Two-Way

D.B. Cooper Update: FBI Says No DNA Match With New Suspect

Our colleagues at public radio's Northwest News Network (N3) first reported a DNA mismatch between the new suspect in the 1971 D.B. Cooper skyjacking and evidence from the hijacked plane.

The failed DNA test was disclosed Friday by Marla Cooper, the woman who claims that her late uncle, Lynn Doyle (L.D.) Cooper, was the famous skyjacker.

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9:33am

Fri August 5, 2011
The Two-Way

Polygamists Condemn Warren Jeffs' Sexual Abuse

As a Texas jury considers a possible life sentence for polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, a coalition of polygamist groups is condemning the sexual abuse that led to Jeffs' conviction.

"We are alarmed that such depravity could have been perpetrated by anyone," says a written statement from the Principle Rights Coalition, a group representing five polygamist groups in Arizona and Utah, as well as "numerous other independent Fundamentalist Mormons."

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12:43pm

Thu August 4, 2011
The Two-Way

FBI Cryptic, Family More Vocal About D.B. Cooper 'Suspect'

Lynn D. Cooper's grave site in Pine Butte Cemetery in Bend, Oregon, about 22 miles from Sisters, Oregon.
David Nogueras Oregon Public Broadcasting

The Oklahoma woman who sparked renewed interest in the 1971 D.B. Cooper skyjacking continues to provide new details about the uncle she identifies as the famous hijacker.

Marla Cooper also revealed plans to write and publish a book for release in November in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of the skyjacking.

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