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 Edge
2:39 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

U.S. Olympic Committee Plans To Examine Speedskating's Woes

U.S. skater Jessica Smith, in black, is among the Americans who have been kept off the podium in Sochi despite strong performances leading up to the Winter Games. Smith's private coach is Jae Su Chun, who is under a two-year suspension from the International Skating Union.
Damien Meyer AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 19, 2014 6:41 am

For American speedskaters, this Winter Olympics has been defined by controversy over racing suits and disappointment over a lack of podium finishes. Now comes word that the U.S. Olympic Committee will "leave no stone unturned" in looking at how the high hopes of US Speedskating collapsed in Sochi.

The news of a possible inquiry into what went wrong in the 2014 Games led Edward Williams, an attorney who represents speedskaters who have filed complaints with the USOC against US Speedskating, to vent his frustration.

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The Two-Way
12:52 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

2 Summer Olympic Cities Are Chasing The 2022 Winter Games

What's a few palm trees? Soaring snowcapped peaks and the aforementioned palms rise near the airport in Sochi, Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Games. Summer Olympics hosts Beijing and Stockholm are among the cities vying to win the 2022 Winter Games.
Mikhail Metzel AP

Originally published on Fri November 15, 2013 11:00 am

With the upcoming Winter Olympics set in a subtropical, palm tree-lined resort city on Russia's Black Sea, it's no surprise that two former Summer Olympics hosts are now seeking the 2022 Winter Games.

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The Two-Way
11:33 am
Fri November 8, 2013

House Lawmakers Seek Federal Probe Of Black Lung Program

Originally published on Fri November 8, 2013 11:14 am

Two Democratic congressmen have formally asked the Labor Department's Inspector General to investigate "allegations of misconduct by doctors and lawyers working on behalf of the coal industry" and their roles in the denials of benefits for coal miners stricken with black lung disease.

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The Two-Way
5:23 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

NSA Says It Has 'Mitigated' Meltdowns At Utah Data Farm

A new National Security Agency data center in Bluffdale, Utah, has had electrical problems that will delay its opening, according to reports.
George Frey Getty Images

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 10:49 am

This was supposed to be the month the National Security Agency cranked up its biggest data farm yet, in a Salt Lake City suburb.

The $1.2 billion complex covers 1.5 million square feet, and includes 100,000 square feet devoted solely to computers and servers.

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Politics
10:46 am
Thu October 3, 2013

National Parks Close As Other Public Lands Stay Open

The road to Lee's Ferry, Ariz., is blocked by barricades and national park rangers. Lee's Ferry is the launching point for river trips down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park.
Scott Lee NPR

Originally published on Thu October 3, 2013 9:53 am

From Acadia in Maine to Zion in Utah to the North Cascades in Washington, America's 401 national park areas have gates blocking entrance roads.

The last remaining campers and hotel guests in the parks must leave Thursday, and park rangers will patrol to keep others out.

The national parks "belong to the American people, and the American people should have the right to come in," says National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. "But the only way I can protect these places during this period is to shut them down."

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Transportation
3:28 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

Hands-Free Gadgets Don't Mean Risk-Free Driving

A University of Utah volunteer drives through Salt Lake City's Avenues neighborhood as a camera tracks her eye and head movement. Another device records driver reaction time, and a cap fitted with sensors charts brain activity.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Originally published on Wed June 12, 2013 8:49 am

If you've felt smug and safe using built-in, voice-controlled technology for text messages, email and phone calls while driving, forget it. There are some sobering findings about the risk of distraction from the American Automobile Association and the University of Utah.

The proliferation of hands-free technology "is a looming public safety crisis," AAA CEO Robert Darbelnet says. "It's time to consider limiting new and potentially dangerous mental distractions built into cars."

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Election 2012
8:22 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 1:16 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 Torch
11:51 am
Sun August 5, 2012

Badminton Federation 'Looking Forward' In Response To Scandal

South Korea's Kim Min Jung (left) and Ha Jung Eun were among the players disqualified for not trying hard enough.
Adek Berry AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sun August 5, 2012 8:15 am

On this final day of badminton at the London Olympics, leaders of the Badminton World Federation (BWF) were vague about how they will respond to a match-throwing scandal at the games.

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The Torch
11:51 am
Sun August 5, 2012

Even A 'No' Is An Olympic Moment When It's Said By Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps and the special award he received Saturday night to mark his Olympic achievements.
Al Bello Getty Images

Originally published on Sun August 5, 2012 8:38 am

An only-at-the-Olympics tale:

As Michael Phelps left a news conference at the Olympic Aquatic Center on Saturday, a photographer rushed up and asked, "Can I get one more photo?"

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2012 Olympics
9:08 am
Tue July 31, 2012

Missy Franklin on winning gold: 'Someone needs to pinch me'

Missy Franklin stands on the podium with her gold medal, after winning the 100m backstroke at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Of that moment, she says, "I was trying to sing, but I was like, crying, at the same time."
Adam Pretty Getty Images

Originally published on Tue July 31, 2012 7:57 am

Missy Franklin couldn't contain herself — in the pool, on the medals stand and at her first gold medal news conference — after a dramatic finish in the 100 meter Olympic backstroke Monday night in London.

It wasn't an easy race. Out front and pulling hard with her graceful but powerful strokes, Emily Seebohm of Australia led in the last 50 meters, with the American Franklin a few strokes back.

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2012 Olympics
12:32 pm
Sun July 29, 2012

Olympic Flame Missed From London Skyline

London's flame stands inside Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on Friday.
Leon Neal AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sun July 29, 2012 12:51 pm

Enduring symbols of the Olympics are everywhere in London, and I'm not just talking about ATMs for Visa, a ubiquitous Olympic sponsor.

The five Olympic rings grace every wall, walk, sign, banner and building in and around the Olympic Park and other venues.

But the Olympic flame, the other most recognizable symbol of the Olympics, is invisible to all but a relative few.

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2012 Olympics
1:53 pm
Fri July 27, 2012

London Opens Up, In Danny Boyle's 'Warm-Up Act' For The Summer Olympics

Animals and actors enter the stadium for the British meadow scene prior the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on Friday.
Franck Fife AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri July 27, 2012 3:33 pm

Every recent opening ceremony of the Olympics went for glitter and glamour, in an escalating war of excess. Ceremony fanatics consider the Beijing opening ceremony the gaudiest of all — and Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (the director of Slumdog Millionaire) had $42 million to try to outdo the Chinese organizers.

Instead, Boyle says, "You can't get bigger than Beijing. So that, in a way, kind of liberated us. We thought, 'Great. Oh good. We'll try and do something different, then.' "

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The Torch
9:52 pm
Mon July 23, 2012

Spotting An 'American Idol' Moment At The Olympics

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams points to a reporter at a London news conference Saturday. The Olympic event may have been the first to have product placement.
Ed Hula III Around the Rings

Originally published on Mon July 23, 2012 2:13 pm

Olympic reporting veterans like myself (London is Games No. 8) noticed something extraordinary this weekend at the first London 2012 news conference called by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

The "something" sat there on the podium, directly in front of Rogge: an aquamarine bottle of Powerade, a Coca-Cola product. And next to Rogge, in front of IOC spokesman Mark Adams, was a carefully positioned bottle of caramel-colored Coke. Dozens of photographers and TV cameras were capturing the event; it seemed impossible to miss the OIympic sponsor's products.

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The Two-Way
12:25 pm
Sat March 3, 2012

Mormon Leaders Warn Followers To Stop Controversial Baptisms

The sun sets behind the Mormon Temple, the centerpiece of Temple Square, in Salt Lake City.
Douglas C. Pizac AP

Originally published on Sun March 4, 2012 10:00 am

Mormons around the world are getting this warning Sunday: Stop posthumous baptisms of "unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims."

"Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors," says a letter to be read in every Mormon congregation. "Those whose names are submitted for proxy [baptisms] should be related to the submitter."

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D.B. Cooper
2:05 pm
Wed August 3, 2011

ABC News: New D.B. Cooper clues come from 'niece'

Originally published on Wed August 3, 2011 6:08 am

ABC News has a report out this morning that claims to name the source of the new information in the D.B. Cooper skyjacking. ABC says unnamed and unspecified sources have confirmed that a woman named Marla Cooper provided the FBI with a guitar strap for fingerprint testing.

NPR is trying to independently confirm ABC's claim. The FBI has yet to respond to a request for comment.

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