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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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Olympics
1:29 pm
Mon August 26, 2013

Sabotage Prompts Two-Year Bans For Olympic Skater And Coach

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

Originally published on Mon August 26, 2013 1:38 pm

"Obnoxious...disruptive...and...unsportsmanlike."

That's how a disciplinary panel at the International Skating Union (ISU) describes the behavior of former U.S. Olympic short track speedskating coach Jae Su Chun during a contentious international meet in Poland in 2011.

American Olympic medalist Simon Cho confessed last Fall to sabotaging the skate of a Canadian rival at that meet. Cho claimed his coach made him do it.

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The Two-Way
5:32 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

Wildfire Forces Kick Into Highest Gear

The 2013 wildfire season hit a milestone Tuesday: Preparedness Level 5, an officious way of saying resources are stretched thin and it could quickly get worse.

Preparedness Level 5 is the highest on the national wildfire preparedness scale, which the National Interagency Fire Center uses to chart wildfire activity, the deployment and availability of firefighters and equipment and the likelihood that more big fires are coming.

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The Two-Way
12:28 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

2013 Wildfire Season Proving To Be More Mild Than Wild

Firefighters battle a wildfire earlier this month in Cabazon, Calif.
Jae C. Hong AP

Originally published on Thu August 15, 2013 2:31 pm

With 15,000 firefighters deployed and three dozen major wildfires currently burning in five Western states, this would seem to be a wildfire season for the record books. And in one tragic aspect, it is. But by most measures, 2013 is the second-mildest fire season in the past decade ... so far.

Here's the season to date, by the numbers (provided by the National Interagency Fire Center) and with some historic statistics for comparison.

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The Two-Way
5:51 pm
Mon July 22, 2013

Brawl Puts 'Bad' Back Into Badminton

Happier Times: Badminton players Issara Bodin, right, and Jongjit Maneepong of Thailand celebrate after defeating Korean badminton players Ko Sung Hyun and Yoo Yeon Seong at the Yonex-Sunrise India Open 2012 in New Delhi on in April of 2012.
Manan Vatsyayana AFP/Getty Images

A year after an embarrassing match-fixing scandal at the London Olympics, badminton is back in the news for being unexpectedly badass.

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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
6:05 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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Around the Nation
3:06 pm
Tue July 2, 2013

U.S. Wildfire Season Has Yet To Kick Into High Gear

Originally published on Tue July 2, 2013 4:51 pm

We have the outlook for wildfire activity for the rest of the year and an assessment of the dramatic but relatively slow season so far.

The Two-Way
5:08 pm
Mon June 24, 2013

Olympic Torch (But Not Olympic Flame) Headed To Space

Former cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, left, the first man to perform a spacewalk, passed an Olympic torch to Mikhail Tyurin, who will lead the mission to the International Space Station in November.
DChernyshenko Twitter

The president of Russia's Sochi 2014 Olympic Committee could hardly contain himself — although Twitter contained him to 140 characters at a time:

"Our ambition to conquer Space 1st time ever in the Olympic history becomes reality," Dmitry Chernyshenko tweeted Monday. "#Sochi2014's Torch Relay will reach the open space!"

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The Two-Way
5:21 pm
Fri June 21, 2013

Teen Who Served Time For Bomb Plot Wants Your Vote For Mayor

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 6:30 pm

Joshua Kyler Hoggan of Roy, Utah, probably wasn't thinking this far ahead when he conspired to blow up his high school last year.

Hoggan, now 18 and a student at Weber State University, has declared his candidacy for mayor of Roy, challenging two-term incumbent Joe Ritchie and City Council member Willard Cragun, according to the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

Roy is a suburban community about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City.

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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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