John Burnett

As a roving NPR correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett's beat stretches across the U.S., and, sometimes, around the world. Currently, he is serving as NPR's Religion correspondent.

In December 2012, he returned from a five-month posting in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent. Normally, he focuses on the issues and people of the Southwest United States, providing investigative reports and traveling the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His special reporting projects have included New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and many reports on the Drug War in the Americas. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

Burnett has reported from more than 30 different countries since 1986. His 2008 four-part series "Dirty Money," which examined how law enforcement agencies have gotten hooked on and, in some cases, corrupted by seized drug money, won three national awards: a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting and an Edward R. Murrow Award for the accompanying website. His 2007 three-part series "The Forgotten War," which took a critical look at the nation's 30-year war on drugs, won a Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for Excellence in Reporting on Drug and Alcohol Problems.

In 2006, Burnett's Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as a 2006 Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. In 2003, he was an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. His work was singled out by judges for the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award honoring the network's overall coverage of the Iraq War. Also in 2003, Burnett won a first place National Headliner Award for investigative reporting about corruption among federal immigration agents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the months following the attacks of Sept. 11, Burnett reported from New York City, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His reporting contributed to coverage that won the Overseas Press Club Award and an Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award.

In 2001, Burnett reported and produced a one-hour documentary, "The Oil Century," for KUT-FM in Austin, which won a silver prize at the New York Festivals. He was a visiting faculty member in broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in 2002 and 1997. He received a Ford Foundation Grant in 1997 for a special series on sustainable development in Latin America.

Burnett's favorite stories are those that reveal a hidden reality. He recalls happening upon Carlos Garcia, a Mexico City street musician who plays a musical leaf, a chance encounter that brought a rare and beautiful art form to a national audience. In reporting his series "Fraud Down on the Farm," Burnett spent nine months investigating the abuse of the United States crop insurance system and shining light on surprising stories of criminality.

Abroad, his report on the accidental U.S. Air Force bombing of the Iraqi village of Al-Taniya, an event that claimed 31 lives, helped listeners understand the fog of war. His "Cocaine Republics" series detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But listeners may say that one of his best remembered reports is an audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, about being at six-foot-seven the "tallest American at a Death to America" rally.

Prior to coming to NPR, Burnett was based in Guatemala City for United Press International covering the Central America civil wars. From 1979-1983, he was a general assignment reporter for various Texas newspapers.

Burnett graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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Music News
2:03 am
Sat November 3, 2012

Radio Tanzania: A Disappearing History On Tape

Radio Tanzania archivist Bruno Nanguka stands with just a few of the 15,000 reel-to-reel tapes stored in the station's archives.
Jonathan Kalan

Originally published on Sat November 3, 2012 7:10 pm

At the archives of Radio Tanzania, more than 15,000 reel-to-reel tapes are stacked in floor-to-ceiling shelves. Each band, musician and recording date is painstakingly notated. The tapes reside inside three musty rooms of the Tanzania Broadcasting Corp., which occupies the old brick-and-concrete BBC building in Dar es Salaam.

Radio Tanzania was the country's only station from its birth in 1951 until the mid-1990s, when competing stations came on the air and state-controlled radio became irrelevant.

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Africa
4:13 pm
Thu October 25, 2012

In A Tanzanian Village, Elephant Poachers Thrive

Poaching is rife in Tanzania game reserves. This elephant was killed, and its tusks taken, at the Lake Chala Safari Camp, a small, private reserve near Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 8:16 pm

An insatiable demand for ivory in Asia is fueling a massive slaughter of elephants across Africa. As NPR's John Burnett reports, one of the worst poaching hot spots is Tanzania. In this story, he visits an ivory poacher's town that sits next to a major game reserve.

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Africa
4:38 am
Thu October 25, 2012

Poachers Decimate Tanzania's Elephant Herds

Tanzania has been identified as the leading exporter of illegal ivory in recent years. An estimated 10,000 elephants are being slaughtered in the country annually. Here, elephants walk in the Serengeti National Reserve in northern Tanzania in 2010.
Tony Karumba AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 11:17 am

"The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it." — Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness

Conrad wrote more than a century ago, when there were no laws against shooting elephants. If anything, today's restrictions on the ivory trade have only increased its value.

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World
5:17 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

As Somalia's War Ebbs, Mogadishu Dares To Rebuild

Somalis chat at a beach-side restaurant earlier this month. After two decades of civil war, Somali's capital, Mogadishu, is beginning to recover.
Feisal Omar Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 7:37 pm

There is a remarkable change going on in Mogadishu, Somalia — often dubbed the world's most dangerous city. For starters, it may not deserve that title anymore.

Last year, African Union forces drove the Islamist militant group al-Shabab out of Mogadishu. Now, Somalia has a new president and prime minister who have replaced the corrupt and unpopular transitional government.

Hope is edging aside despair, and Mogadishu is coming back to life.

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Africa
4:23 am
Fri October 12, 2012

Forest People Return To Their Land ... As Tour Guides

In 1991, the Batwa forest people of Uganda were evicted from their land when two national parks were created to protect the shrinking habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla. A new program is trying to help them earn money and reconnect with their roots.
Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for NPR

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 11:55 pm

Like other hunter-gatherers of Central Africa who've been cast out of their jungle homes, when the Batwa forest people of southwest Uganda lost their forest, they lost their identity.

The Batwa were evicted from their rain forest kingdom in 1991, when two neighboring national parks, Mgahinga and Bwindi, were created to protect shrinking habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla.

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Africa
4:36 pm
Mon October 8, 2012

Uganda's Leader: 26 Years In Power, No Plans To Quit

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled since 1986, speaks in January at Uganda's Makarere University in the capital Kampala. Uganda celebrates a half-century of independence next month, and Museveni has ruled for more than half of that time.
Ronald Kabuubi AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 3:19 am

Rebel leader Joesphy Kony, head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, has achieved greater notoriety than any other Ugandan in the world today.

Idi Amin, who ruled the country through most of the 1970s, still stands as a symbol of African dictators who abused power and inflicted gross human rights abuses.

Yet as Uganda celebrated 50 years of independence on Tuesday, the man who has most shaped the country is far less known, at least in the West.

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Africa
1:29 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

Gorillas And Guerrillas Share The Troubled Congo

Patrick Karabaranga, a warden at the Virunga National Park, plays with an orphaned mountain gorilla at the park headquarters in Rumangabo, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on July 17. The Virunga park is home to about 200 mountain gorillas, approximately a quarter of the world's population.
Phil Moore AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu September 13, 2012 11:19 pm

When crossing from Uganda into Congo at the shabby border town of Bunagana, I encountered a broadly smiling man in a black leather jacket named Hamid Kashaisha.

He asked if I wanted to see the gorillas. I replied that it's guerrillas — with guns, that is — that I wanted to see: the M23 rebels who, for the past two months, had occupied a piece of real estate in eastern Congo larger than Delaware.

That was no deterrence to the pitchman.

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Africa
5:39 am
Sun September 9, 2012

Yet Again, Congo Faces The Specter Of Civil War

The eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been ravaged by rebel groups for years. A new faction, the March 23 Movement, or M23, already controls a large area, and there are fears this could ignite another war. Here M23 fighters go out on a patrol.
Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for NPR

Originally published on Sun September 9, 2012 1:43 pm

For years, armed militias have been stalking the lush forests in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, committing all sorts of atrocities against villagers. And now one of the most war-ravaged countries in the world has another looming problem: an emerging rebel group.

"A notorious group of human rights violators" is how the U.N. human rights commissioner describes the group, known as the March 23 Movement, or M23.

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Music News
2:03 am
Sat September 8, 2012

Sauti Sol: Native Sons Sing Straight To Kenya's Youth

Sauti Sol has become the most popular band in Kenya.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat September 8, 2012 9:40 pm

The members of Sauti Sol rehearse in a cramped recording studio above a chapati restaurant off a noisy highway in Nairobi. Bien-Aime Baraza, Delvin Mudigi and Willis Chimano — the founding members, all 25 — have been friends since they sang together as part of a gospel ensemble in high school. When they graduated in 2005, they didn't want to stop singing, so they formed Sauti Sol. Sauti is Swahili for voice, while sol is Spanish for sun. "Voices of light."

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Africa
6:24 am
Sun August 26, 2012

Ugandan Gold Medalist Returns To Fame And Fortune

Uganda's Stephen Kiprotich wins the gold medal in the men's marathon at the 2012 London Olympics. As the impoverished country's second gold medalist in 40 years, Kiprotich became an instant national hero.
Kyodo/Landov

Originally published on Sun August 26, 2012 6:02 pm

On the last day of the London Olympics, a Ugandan runner seemingly came from nowhere during the marathon to pass the favored Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes and win gold.

Stephen Kiprotich is the first gold medalist from Uganda since John Akii-Bua won the 400-meter hurdles at the 1972 Munich Olympics. In the last two weeks, Kiprotich has become an unlikely national hero in a struggling country that rarely has much to cheer about.

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