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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The Two-Way
3:19 pm
Mon February 4, 2013

Report: W.Va. Fails To Enforce New Regs Designed To Prevent Mine Explosions

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 8:53 am

Ken Ward at The Charleston Gazette has a story worth reading about West Virginia's failure to enforce new coal mine dust standards prompted by the deadly explosion three years ago at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine.

Ward used the state's Freedom of Information Act to obtain and review mine safety inspections conducted by the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

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The Two-Way
2:18 pm
Thu January 17, 2013

Massey Mine Boss Sentenced; Feds Toughen Mine Safety Rule

Mine helmets and painted crosses were placed at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there.
Jeff Gentner AP

Originally published on Thu January 17, 2013 2:28 pm

Nearly three years after a deadly mine explosion in West Virginia, a former Massey Energy mine superintendent has been sentenced to prison and federal regulators have toughened a regulation that could have helped prevent the disaster.

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The Two-Way
3:08 pm
Mon December 3, 2012

Salt Lake City Says It's 'Ready, Willing And Able' To Host Another Olympics

Among the stars of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was Team USA's Apolo Anton Ohno. The city and Utah want another chance to host the games.
Jacques DeMarthon AFP/Getty Images

Ten years after jumpstarting Mitt Romney's political career with a widely-praised Winter Olympics, officials in Utah say they're ready to do it all over again.

But there's no word on whether the unemployed Romney is interested in reprising his role as Salt Lake City Olympics chief. He would be 78, after all, when the 2026 games roll around. That's the earliest opportunity for a Winter Olympics in the United States.

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The Two-Way
10:28 am
Wed November 28, 2012

Mine Disaster Probe Leads To Conspiracy Charges Against Former Executive

Mine helmets and painted crosses at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine, as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there.
Jeff Gentner AP

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 12:36 pm

Federal prosecutors in West Virginia stepped higher up the corporate ladder at Massey Energy Wednesday with new criminal charges stemming from the investigation of the 2010 coal mine explosion that killed 29 workers.

David C. Hughart was president of Massey's Green Valley Resource Group, a major coal mining subsidiary based in Leivasy, W. Va., from 2000 to 2010.

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It's All Politics
4:23 pm
Wed November 7, 2012

After Romney's Loss, Mormons Lament What Might Have Been

Mormons line up outside the historic Salt Lake Temple for an annual conference in April 2010.
George Frey Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 10:43 am

Poor Chris Stewart. The former Air Force pilot had just won a landslide victory in his first bid for Congress in Utah, but the crowd of Republicans listening to his acceptance speech at a Salt Lake City hotel kept pointing to the massive television screen behind him.

"Do you want me to stop?" Stewart asked. "You would rather listen to Gov. Romney than to me, wouldn't you?"

Some in the crowd shouted "Yes!" and the sound of Romney's concession speech filled the room.

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Election 2012
2:27 am
Tue October 16, 2012

Poll: Romney Has Large Lead In Rural Swing Counties

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Gilbert, S.C., earlier this year.
Charles Dharapak AP

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 4:16 pm

As Mitt Romney and President Obama get ready for their second debate, a new bipartisan survey shows a surge for Romney in a key voter group following their first debate Oct. 3.

The random cellphone and land line poll of 600 likely rural voters in nine battleground states Oct. 9-11 has Romney at 59 percent among the survey's respondents. Obama's support is now down to 37 percent among rural battleground voters, a plunge of 10 points from the actual rural vote in those states four years ago.

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The Two-Way
5:18 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

Embattled U.S. Speedskating Coach Responds To Resignation And Suspension

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 6:56 pm

A day after resigning under pressure from U.S. Speedskating, former head coach Jae Su Chun says he didn't report a tampering incident at an international meet last year to protect skater Simon Cho, who confessed to sabotaging a Canadian athlete's skate blade.

"I know I chose Simon over my own principles," Chun says in a written statement translated from Korean by a spokesman.

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The Two-Way
3:12 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

New Regulations Aimed At Black Lung Disease Appear To Be Stalled

Originally published on Sat October 13, 2012 12:37 pm

Reporting by the Charleston Gazette this week suggests that the Obama administration's efforts to impose tough new limits on miners' exposure to coal dust have stalled.

The United Mine Workers Union suggests election year politics may be the reason.

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The Two-Way
7:48 pm
Thu October 11, 2012

Embattled Speedskating Coaches Resign

Speedskaters practice for the U.S. Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships, in Kearns, Utah, last month. Coach Jae Su Chun and assistant Jun Hyung Yao have resigned following allegations of abuse.
Rick Bowmer AP

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 9:41 pm

The coaches accused of physically abusing U.S. short track speedskaters and failing to report one athlete's sabotage of a competitor's skates have resigned.

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Sports
5:03 am
Fri October 5, 2012

U.S. Speedskater Admits To Sabotaging Rival's Skates

Simon Cho competes in the men's 500-meter finals at the 2011 ISU World Cup short track speedskating final in Dresden, Germany. He won the event.
Robert Michael AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 4:19 pm

American speedskater Simon Cho says what he did was "wrong" when he yielded to what he claims was persistent pressure from a coach to tamper with another skater's blades at the World Short Track Team Championships in Poland last year.

"Tampering with someone's skates is inexcusable," Cho told NPR in his first interview about the incident. "And I'm coming out now and admitting that I did this and acknowledging that what I did was wrong." The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune also spoke with Cho earlier this week after the NPR interview.

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