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 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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The Two-Way
6:14 pm
Mon April 8, 2013

A Woman's Prayer Makes Mormon History

Jean A. Stevens conducts the morning session's closing prayer during the 183rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Saturday, April 6, 2013, in Salt Lake City.
Rick Bowmer AP

Originally published on Mon April 8, 2013 6:16 pm

There was no formal acknowledgment of the historic moment Saturday when Jean Stevens stood at a dark wooden podium framed by potted plants and colorful flowers in the cavernous Mormon conference center in Salt Lake City.

"Our beloved father in heaven," she began, as 20,000 faithful and silent Mormons in the building listened, and as millions of others (according to Church officials) watched on television screens around the world.

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The Two-Way
3:24 pm
Fri March 29, 2013

New Federal Scrutiny In Wake Of NPR Grain Bin Reports

Will Piper and Annette Pacas visit the grave of Annette's son, Alex, at Oak Hill Cemetery in Mount Carroll, Ill. Piper says he hopes to raise money to replace the makeshift, plastic marker with a permanent gravestone.
John W. Poole NPR

Congress, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Justice Department are beginning to respond to the NPR-Center for Public Integrity Series on hundreds of persistent and preventable deaths in grain storage bins and weak enforcement by federal agencies.

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Buried In Grain
12:03 am
Sun March 24, 2013

Fines Slashed In Grain Bin Entrapment Deaths

Friends and classmates of Wyatt Whitebread, Alex Pacas and Will Piper watch as rescuers work to free the boys from the bin (center) full of thousands of bushels of corn. Only Piper survived.
Alex T. Paschal AP

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 5:58 pm

The night before he died, Wyatt Whitebread couldn't stand the thought of going back to the grain bins on the edge of Mount Carroll, Ill.

The mischievous and popular 14-year-old had been excited about his first real job, he told Lisa Jones, the mother of some of his closest friends, as she drove him home from a night out for pizza. But nearly two weeks later he told her he was tired of being sent into massive storage bins clogged with corn.

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The Two-Way
12:10 pm
Tue March 5, 2013

U.S. Speedskating Investigating Sexual Abuse Allegations

Speedskater Bridie Farrell competing last Friday in Kearns, Utah. Now 31, she says she was 15 when a much older teammate began sexually abusing her.
Rick Bowmer AP

Originally published on Tue March 5, 2013 3:17 pm

Yet another scandal has hit U.S. Speedskating (USS), which governs the sport with the biggest haul of winter Olympic medals for Team USA.

The USS board announced Monday night that it is investigating allegations of sexual abuse involving short track silver medalist Andy Gabel, now 48, who also once served as president of USS.

"U.S. Speedskating will not tolerate abuse of any kind and we intend to investigate these claims, and any others that arise, thoroughly," the group said in a written statement.

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The Two-Way
1:41 pm
Wed February 13, 2013

Center for Public Integrity: EPA Unaware Of Industry Ties On Cancer Review Panel

Originally published on Wed February 13, 2013 5:44 pm

Our investigative reporting colleagues at the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) continue their look at the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of toxic pollution with a new report scrutinizing the agency's delay in announcing that "even a small amount of a chemical compound commonly found in tap water may cause cancer."

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The Two-Way
11:09 am
Wed February 6, 2013

Once-Secret 'Watch List' Of Alleged Polluters Under Review At EPA

"Poisoned Places," an NPR/Center for Public Integrity investigation.
NPR

The Environmental Protection Agency's once-secret "Watch List" of allegedly chronic polluters is under review by the EPA's inspector general.

The existence of the list was first disclosed by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and NPR in 2011 during a joint investigation of EPA's air pollution regulation. CPI's Jim Morris discovered the list and a CPI/NPR Freedom of Information Act request prompted its public release.

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The Two-Way
3:19 pm
Mon February 4, 2013

Report: W.Va. Fails To Enforce New Regs Designed To Prevent Mine Explosions

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 8:53 am

Ken Ward at The Charleston Gazette has a story worth reading about West Virginia's failure to enforce new coal mine dust standards prompted by the deadly explosion three years ago at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine.

Ward used the state's Freedom of Information Act to obtain and review mine safety inspections conducted by the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training.

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