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
5:55 pm
Wed July 17, 2013

Talk Of Boycotting Russian Olympics Stirs Emotions

The silver medal design for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Olga Maltseva AFP/Getty Images

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., sent a shudder through the Olympic world Wednesday when he told American Olympic network NBC that the United States should consider boycotting the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics if Russia grants the asylum request of "NSA leaker" Edward Snowden.

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The Two-Way
7:18 pm
Tue July 2, 2013

Wildfire Season So Far: Tragic, Destructive And Below Average

Originally published on Wed July 3, 2013 8:13 am

It may seem like wildfire Armageddon out there, given the tragic deaths of 24 wildland firefighters this year, more than 800 homes and businesses burned to the ground, nearly 1.6 million acres scorched and over 23,000 blazes requiring suppression.

But as dramatic as it's been, the 2013 wildfire season has yet to kick into high gear.

"We have seen, overall, less fire activity so far this year," says Randy Eardley, a spokesman at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

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The Two-Way
1:28 pm
Thu June 20, 2013

Amid Turmoil, U.S. Speedskating Chief Resigns

Already on thin ice after months of turmoil and scandal, the executive director of U.S. Speedskating (USS) has resigned.

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The Two-Way
5:53 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

U.S. Olympic Skater's Sabotage Gets Day In 'Court'

American short track speedskater Simon Cho (center) admitted last October that he sabotaged the skate blade of Canadian athlete Olivier Jean (left). The two are pictured here in 2011, at a different event.
Alex Livesey Getty Images

Months of claims and counterclaims come to a head in a hotel conference room in Frankfurt, Germany, Thursday, when the International Skating Union considers the deliberate sabotage of a speed skate involving an American Olympic medalist and, allegedly, his former coach.

The ISU's disciplinary commission is scheduled to hear testimony behind closed doors from Simon Cho, a Vancouver Olympic bronze medalist in short track speedskating, former American short track coach Jae Su Chun, and at least two witnesses.

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The Two-Way
2:09 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

Federal Defender Wants Out Of Terrorism Case Due To Budget Cuts

Samuel Richard Rubin, head of the federal defender's office in Idaho, says his office "has an obligation to handle 75 percent of the [federal] indigent cases" in the state.
John Miller AP

Originally published on Wed June 12, 2013 5:32 pm

A federal public defender in Idaho wants a judge to find another lawyer for an Uzbek national charged with aiding a terrorist group and training others in how to build and use a weapon of mass destruction.

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Shots - Health News
8:48 am
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 10:49 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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National Security
1:58 am
Mon June 10, 2013

Amid Data Controversy, NSA Builds Its Biggest Data Farm

A National Security Agency data center is under construction in Bluffdale, Utah. When this data center opens in the fall, it will be the largest spy data center for the NSA.
George Frey EPA/LANDOV

Originally published on Mon June 10, 2013 9:01 am

As privacy advocates and security experts debate the validity of the National Security Agency's massive data gathering operations, the agency is putting the finishing touches on its biggest data farm yet.

The gargantuan $1.2 billion complex at a National Guard base 26 miles south of Salt Lake City features 1.5 million square feet of top secret space. High-performance NSA computers alone will fill up 100,000 square feet.

The Utah Data Center is a data farm that will begin harvesting emails, phone records, text messages and other electronic data in September.

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Around the Nation
3:03 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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Around the Nation
3:02 pm
Fri June 7, 2013

Salt, Flies, Pickled Tongues: A Perfect Great Salt Lake Swim

Swimmers begin a 1-mile race in the Great Salt Lake in June 2012. The mountains of Stansbury Island rise in the background.
Connie Hubbard

Originally published on Fri June 7, 2013 7:29 pm

It's the "liquid lie of the desert," as writer Terry Tempest Williams describes it, a vast inland sea so salty it triggers retching when swallowed. Brine shrimp swarm its waters and brine flies blanket the shore. In the right wind and weather its putrid smell reaches Salt Lake City neighborhoods 16 miles away. Storms churn up waves that rival ocean swells.

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The Two-Way
2:16 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
6:50 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 10:38 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
6:19 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 10:55 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
10:40 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 11:56 am

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
11:47 am
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 4:20 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
3:56 pm
Wed May 8, 2013

Teen Charged With Homicide After Death Of Soccer Referee

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 4:34 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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