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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1:12pm

Fri November 30, 2012
The Two-Way

Badminton Takes Swing At Avoiding Repeat Of London Scandal

Referee Torsten Berg tried to get players from Indonesia (near court) and South Korea to try their hardest during this match at the London Olympics. The format gave some teams an incentive to lose — in order to get easier opponents in upcoming matches. That format's being changed.
Adek Berry AFP/Getty Images

The biggest scandal at the summer Olympics in London didn't involve doping, or boorish behavior by athletes or judges tipping the results.

No, the biggest scandal came out of the badminton competition, shocking the sport's fanatic followers in Asia and leaving the rest of the world snickering at cheating in badminton, of all things.

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10:11am

Wed November 28, 2012
The Two-Way

Mine Disaster Probe Leads To Conspiracy Charges Against Former Executive

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

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

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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4:40pm

Wed November 7, 2012
It's All Politics

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

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

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

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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4:41pm

Fri October 26, 2012
The Two-Way

Suspended Speedskating Coach Still In Demand As Sabotage Probe Expands

Originally published on Sat October 27, 2012 10:28 am

Short track speedskating coach Jae Su Chun, shown here in May 2010 at a state dinner for Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Alexis C. Glenn UPI /Landov

The suspension of Jae Su Chun, the former head coach of the U.S. Short Track Speedskating Team, hasn't stopped some skating clubs from wanting to hire the embattled coach, even as an investigation expands into the most serious allegation against him.

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2:27am

Tue October 16, 2012
Election 2012

Poll: Romney Has Large Lead In Rural Swing Counties

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

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

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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5:07pm

Fri October 12, 2012
The Two-Way

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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2:58pm

Fri October 12, 2012
The Two-Way

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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5:03am

Fri October 5, 2012
Sports

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

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

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

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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5:32pm

Thu September 27, 2012
The Two-Way

Skaters Detail Abuse And Sabotage Allegations As Racing Season Begins

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 5:18 pm

Simon Cho of the U.S. celebrates during the 500 meter men's final race at the Short Track Speed Skating World Cup in Dresden in 2011.
Jens Meyer AP

More than the ice is frosty at the Olympic Oval outside Salt Lake City this week, as short track speedskaters begin the 2012-2013 season.

U.S. skaters are split over allegations of abuse leveled against two coaches and a claim that one coach ordered the sabotage of a Canadian competitor's skates at an international competition last year.

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11:36pm

Sun September 23, 2012
Presidential Race

Romney Rules Rural As Obama's Support Wanes

Originally published on Tue September 25, 2012 9:08 am

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney autographs a coal miner's hat during a campaign event Aug. 14 at American Energy Corp. in Beallsville, Ohio.
Mary Altaffer AP

The nation's smallest and most remote places are providing Mitt Romney's biggest margins in battleground states as the 2012 presidential race enters its final weeks.

In fact, rural counties are keeping Romney competitive in the states that are now up for grabs. That's what a new bipartisan survey indicates. The poll also finds that President Obama's rural support has plunged since 2008.

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