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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4:29pm

Tue August 4, 2015
Around the Nation

Doctor Who Crusaded For Coal Miners' Health Dies At 87

Originally published on Tue August 4, 2015 8:02 pm

Donald Rasmussen advises a coal miner who qualified for Federal Black Lung Compensation at his West Virginia clinic in 2006.
Courtesy of Earl Dotter

The nation's coal miners have lost an advocate — a pulmonologist who helped create a national movement in the 1960's that focused national attention on the deadly coal miners' disease known as black lung.

Dr. Donald Rasmussen died July 23 at age 87 in Beckley, W.V., where he spent close to 50 years assessing, studying and treating coal miners — more than 40,000 of them, by his account. His work documenting the occurrence of black lung helped trigger a statewide miners strike in West Virginia in 1969.

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8:04pm

Fri May 29, 2015
The Two-Way

FIFA Scandal Has Echoes Of Salt Lake Olympics Corruption Crisis

In 1998, the year that Sepp Blatter took the helm at FIFA, the world soccer governing body, the International Olympic Committee became ensnared in its worst ethics crisis ever. As with FIFA, there were allegations of bribery, influence-peddling and corruption among IOC members and the shadowy "agents" who helped cities bidding for the Olympics.

Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games was the focus of investigations by the Justice Department, Congress and Utah prosecutors, and corporate sponsors concerned about tainted Olympic rings threatened to pull out.

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5:33am

Thu May 14, 2015
Around the Nation

Feds Probe Failure To Collect Mine Safety Penalties After NPR Report

Originally published on Thu May 14, 2015 2:55 pm

The inspector general of the Labor Department is conducting an audit of the Mine Safety and Health Administration's handling of delinquent mine safety penalties.

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6:55pm

Thu April 23, 2015
The Two-Way

Delinquent Mines: Congress Revives Bill To Hold Mine Owners Accountable

Originally published on Fri April 24, 2015 7:01 am

Federal lawmakers have revived a mine safety reform bill that addresses a regulatory failure detailed in a joint investigation by NPR and Mine Safety and Health News.

The Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety Protection Act includes a provision that directly addresses the Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) failure to fully enforce penalties for safety violations at the nation's mines.

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7:33am

Mon March 30, 2015
NPR Story

Employers And Insurers Gain Control In Workers' Compensation Disputes

Originally published on Mon March 30, 2015 12:41 pm

Frances Stevens uses a custom ramp leading to her van. An accident at work in 1997 left her unable to walk. She received full workers' compensation benefits until two years ago, when the insurer withdrew her medications and home health aide. Her lawsuit is a test of California's use of anonymous, independent medical reviewers.
Glenna Gordon for ProPublica

Frances Stevens could have been a contender. She was training to be a Golden Gloves boxer and working as a magazine publisher in 1997 when 1,000 copies of the latest issue arrived at her San Francisco office.

"I'd just turned 30. I was an athlete. I had a job that I loved, a life that I loved," she recalls. "And in a second my life changed."

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11:16pm

Tue March 10, 2015
The Two-Way

Feds Add Coal-Dust Coverup Allegation To Mine CEO's Indictment

Originally published on Wed March 11, 2015 2:32 am

Don Blankenship, former CEO of Massey Energy, faces trial on federal conspiracy charges related to the 2010 fatal explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.
Jeff Gentner AP

Six weeks before a landmark mine disaster trial, federal prosecutors in West Virginia have added a new allegation to the criminal conspiracy charges lodged against former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship.

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5:03am

Fri March 6, 2015
Around the Nation

As Workers' Comp Varies From State To State, Workers Pay The Price

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 2:37 pm

Jeremy Lewis lost his left arm during a work-related incident while working at a poultry plant in Alabama. The state has the nation's lowest workers' compensation benefits for amputations and sent Lewis into just the kind of downward spiral workers' comp was intended to prevent.
Dustin Chambers for ProPublica

At the time of their accidents, Jeremy Lewis was 27, Josh Potter 25.

The men lived within 75 miles of each other. Both were married with two children about the same age. Both even had tattoos of their children's names.

Their injuries, suffered on the job at Southern industrial plants, were remarkably similar, too. Each man lost a portion of his left arm in a machinery accident.

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1:04pm

Thu March 5, 2015
The Two-Way

U.S. Appeals Court Overturns Gag Order In Mine Disaster Case

Former Massey Energy Company Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship, seen in July 2010, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges associated with the 2010 West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 men.
Jacquelyn Martin AP

A federal appeals court has vacated a sweeping gag order in the criminal case involving former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and the 2010 Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster.

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9:19am

Thu March 5, 2015
NPR News Investigations

'Grand Bargain' In Workers' Comp Unravels, Harming Injured Workers Further

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 2:38 pm

Joel Ramirez climbs back into his wheelchair with the help of Francisco Guardado, a home health aide, at his home in Rialto, Calif. Ramirez was paralyzed from the waist down in 2009 when a 900-pound crate fell on him at a warehouse. Changes to California workers' compensation laws have impacted his quality of care.
Patrick T. Fallon for ProPublica

Workers injured on the job are supposed to get guaranteed medical care and money to live on. Employers and their insurance companies pay for that.

And in return, employers don't get sued for workplace accidents. But this "grand bargain," as it's called, in workers' compensation, seems to be unraveling.

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4:03am

Thu March 5, 2015
The Two-Way

Federal Regulators Link Workers' Comp Failures To Income Inequality

Originally published on Thu March 5, 2015 11:13 am

A few hours after ProPublica and NPR issued the first in a series of reports about workers' compensation "reforms" sweeping the country, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration coincidentally released a paper linking workplace injuries to income inequality.

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