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.

Pages

The Two-Way
6:26 pm
Tue March 27, 2012

Mine Agency To Congress: Don't Blame Us For Deadly Disaster

As we reported last week, an independent panel reviewing the Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) role in the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster found that the agency "possibly could have prevented" the explosion that took 29 lives.

Read more
The Two-Way
3:55 pm
Fri March 23, 2012

Report: Mine Safety Agency 'Could Have Prevented' Deadly Disaster

Originally published on Fri March 23, 2012 5:40 pm

An independent review of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) enforcement at the Upper Big Branch (UBB) coal mine in West Virginia says the agency failed to spot "a number of enforcement deficiencies" at the mine which were major factors in the April 2010 explosion that took 29 lives.

Read more
The Two-Way
3:38 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Mining Company Pleads Guilty In 2007 Utah Mine Disaster Case

Coal mining company Genwal Resources has pleaded guilty to corporate criminal charges stemming from the 2007 Crandall Canyon mine collapse in Utah that left nine miners and rescuers dead.

Federal prosecutors say a plea agreement includes a provision that no criminal charges will be filed against any individuals in the case.

Federal and congressional investigators blamed the an initial mine collapse on "retreat mining," in which pillars of coal holding up the roof of the mine are dug out, causing collapse of the mine behind them.

Read more
The Two-Way
3:28 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Mormon Church Limits Access to Controversial Baptism Records

Sunrise hits the Mormon church's temple in Salt Lake City.
Douglas C. Pizac AP

Originally published on Fri March 9, 2012 5:12 pm

Persistent pressure and criticism have prompted the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to erect a new "technological barrier" in the system used for controversial posthumous or proxy baptisms.

Read more
The Two-Way
2:54 pm
Tue March 6, 2012

Mine Safety Agency Reports Failures Before Deadly Explosion

Mine helmets and painted crosses sat at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine on April 5, as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there one year earlier.
Jeff Gentner AP

Originally published on Tue March 6, 2012 6:19 pm

The latest federal review of the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine explosion again blames Massey Energy for the deaths of 29 coal miners and says Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) failures did not directly contribute to the blast.

Read more
The Two-Way
1:47 pm
Sat March 3, 2012

Mormon Leaders Warn Followers To Stop Controversial Baptisms

The sun sets behind the Mormon Temple, the centerpiece of Temple Square, in Salt Lake City.
Douglas C. Pizac AP

Originally published on Sun March 4, 2012 12:00 pm

Mormons around the world are getting this warning Sunday: Stop posthumous baptisms of "unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims."

"Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors," says a letter to be read in every Mormon congregation. "Those whose names are submitted for proxy [baptisms] should be related to the submitter."

Read more
The Two-Way
4:00 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

Mine Safety Officials Ditched Safety Citation Fearing Congressional Scrutiny

Originally published on Fri March 2, 2012 6:25 pm

NPR has obtained a report from the Inspector General of the Labor Department that describes an incident last year in which the nation's coal mine safety chief and agency lawyers withdrew a legitimate safety citation and order "not based upon the merits" but "to avoid the appearance of retaliation and possible Congressional scrutiny."

Read more
The Two-Way
6:52 am
Wed February 29, 2012

UPDATED: Ex-Mine Security Chief Sentenced To Three Years

Originally published on Wed February 29, 2012 1:59 pm

(The top of this post was updated at 1:45 p.m. ET with news of the prison sentence, and at 3 p.m. ET with the U.S. Attorney's reaction.)

A federal judge in West Virginia has sentenced Hughie Stover to three years in prison. Stover is the former security chief of the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 miners died in a massive explosion in 2010.

Read more
The Two-Way
1:30 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

West Virginia Report On Mine Disaster Points To State's Shortcomings

At an April 25, 2010, service in Beckley, W. Va., for the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch explosion, helmets — placed on crosses — were lined up in their honor.
Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training has issued what is now the fourth investigative report on the April, 2010, Upper Big Branch mine explosion. It largely agrees with the earlier reviews, but in language that's tepid in comparison.

Read more
The Two-Way
8:15 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Massey Mine Boss Charged In Deadly Coal Mine Explosion

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 6:29 pm

(Scroll down for several updates and the document prosecutors filed today.)

Federal prosecutors in Charleston, W.Va., have filed the most serious criminal charges yet in the April, 2010, coal mine explosion that left 29 mine workers dead.

The conspiracy charges reach into the management ranks of Massey Energy and signal an effort to seek evidence against higher-level executives.

Read more

Pages