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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Around the Nation
4:03 pm
Fri June 7, 2013

The Iceman Swimmeth, Chanting 'F Cancer'

Goody Tyler, a schoolteacher, earned the "ice man" label for swimming a mile in 41-degree water in the Great Salt Lake. He credits that swim and workouts in the lake for helping him withstand the tedium of chemotherapy while being treated for cancer.
Wanda Gayle

Goody Tyler isn't just any hard-core Great Salt Lake swimmer. He's a certified "ice swimmer." In December, Tyler swam 1 mile in the lake when the water temperature was only 41 degrees, the maximum temperature for an official "ice swim."

"You're only allowed to wear one cap, one pair of goggles and a Speedo," Tyler says. "And that's it."

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The Two-Way
3:16 pm
Fri June 7, 2013

Grain Deaths Fall In 2012 But Industry Share Grows

John Poole NPR

A new report from grain safety researchers at Purdue University says eight people died while trapped in grain last year, another steep drop from the record year of 2010, when 31 people lost their lives in grain bins and other grain storage facilities.

The continued decline in incidents since 2010 is credited to drier and smaller harvests since then. The grain stored in bins in 2010 was generally harvested wet and tended to spoil and clog. Workers and farmers went into bins to unclog grain and were trapped in a "quicksand" effect common in flowing grain.

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The Two-Way
7:43 pm
Tue June 4, 2013

U.S. Skater Will Boycott Disciplinary Hearing On Tampering

U.S. speedskater Simon Cho, seen here in 2012, will boycott a hearing in Germany over an incident in which he tampered with a Canadian athlete's skate. Cho says his coach ordered him to tamper with the equipment.
Rick Bowmer AP

Originally published on Wed June 5, 2013 11:38 am

U.S. Olympic speedskater Simon Cho will boycott a hearing next week that could result in his receiving a lifetime ban from the sport, NPR has learned.

Cho is the short-track bronze medalist (Vancouver, 2010) who in October confessed to sabotaging the skate of a Canadian athlete during an international meet in Poland in 2011.

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The Two-Way
7:19 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

Idaho Terrorism Suspect Waives Detention Hearing

Fazliddin Kurbanov, shown in an undated image provided by the Idaho State Police.
AP

Originally published on Wed May 22, 2013 11:55 am

The 30-year-old Uzbek national accused of a terrorist conspiracy in Idaho and Utah waived his right to a detention hearing in Boise on Tuesday, and apparently avoided public disclosure of details of his alleged crimes.

According to a federal court document, an attorney for Fazliddin Kurbanov withdrew his client's request for the hearing. Kurbanov confirmed the decision through an interpreter and agreed to remain jailed pending a July 2 trial date.

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The Two-Way
11:40 am
Tue May 21, 2013

Big Changes At U.S. Speedskating Body, But Scandals Linger

Speedskaters practiced for the U.S. Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships in Kearns, Utah, last year.
Rick Bowmer AP

Originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 12:56 pm

Rebellious athletes, drained budgets, dysfunctional management and a string of embarrassing scandals forced a major reorganization of U.S. Speedskating over the weekend.

The group governs a sport that has produced 85 Winter Olympic medals for the United States — more than any other sport. But persistent turmoil threatened continued success in the next Games, just nine months away in Sochi, Russia.

The changes leave USS with a smaller board and without numerous committees that have permitted parochial interests to meddle in the governance of the sport.

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Shots - Health News
12:47 pm
Fri May 17, 2013

Doctors Confirm Black Lung In Victims Of Mine Blast

A memorial at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine represents the 29 coal miners who were killed in an explosion in 2010.
Jeff Gentner AP

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 5:20 pm

The tragic deaths of 29 coal miners in a massive explosion in 2010 have provided new evidence of a resurgence of the disease known as black lung.

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The Two-Way
4:56 pm
Wed May 8, 2013

Teen Charged With Homicide After Death Of Soccer Referee

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 5:34 pm

The 17-year-old soccer goalie who allegedly punched and killed a referee during a game in Utah last month faces a charge of "homicide by assault" and may be tried as an adult.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill sought the charge in a petition filed with a juvenile court Wednesday. Gill is also seeking to have the unidentified suspect certified as an adult.

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The Two-Way
1:37 pm
Fri April 26, 2013

On-The-Job Deaths Continue At Steady, Grim Pace

A construction site in San Mateo, Calif., earlier this month. There were 738 deaths of construction workers in the U.S. during 2011, the most of any single industry. The fatality rate per workers was higher, when taken together, in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Dying on the job continues at a steady pace according to the latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The fatal injury rate for American workers dropped slightly in 2011 — the most recent year with reported numbers — from 3.6 to 3.5 deaths per 100,000 workers.

But 4,693 men, women and teenagers died at work. That's three more than the total number of lives lost on the job in 2010.

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The Two-Way
9:58 am
Tue April 16, 2013

The Cruelest Month: Boston Blasts Join List Of Dark Incidents

Oklahoma City Bombing: The Albert P. Murrah Federal Building shows the devastation caused by a fuel and fertilizer truck bomb on April 19, 1995. The blast killed 168 people and injured more than 500.
Bob Daemmrich AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 1:04 pm

Howard Berkes is an NPR correspondent based in Salt Lake City.

It may have been the dumbest thing I ever said. On April 19, 1999, I stood before an audience at Idaho State University in Pocatello, talking about the cruelest month. April, I pointed out, and April 19 in particular, have provided celebrated, infamous and sometimes horrific moments in our history.

What was it about the month, I wondered, or the time of year, that made April so meaningful and at times so cruel? Back then, the list was relatively short:

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The Two-Way
7:08 pm
Fri April 12, 2013

Rare On-The-Job Death For Avalanche Forecaster In Utah

Craig Patterson, 34, a seven-year veteran of avalanche forecasting for the Utah Department of Transportation.
Utah Department of Transportation

Dale Atkins has been tracking hundreds of avalanche deaths for years but the fatality report that arrived from Utah Friday morning was especially shocking.

"It's way too close to home," says Atkins, the Colorado-based president of the American Avalanche Association. "It's mind numbing...it's a slashing chill."

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