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 Edge
2:53 pm
Tue February 18, 2014

U.S. Olympic Committee Plans To Examine Speedskating's Woes

U.S. skater Jessica Smith, in black, is among the Americans who have been kept off the podium in Sochi despite strong performances leading up to the Winter Games. Smith's private coach is Jae Su Chun, who is under a two-year suspension from the International Skating Union.
Damien Meyer AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 19, 2014 7:41 am

For American speedskaters, this Winter Olympics has been defined by controversy over racing suits and disappointment over a lack of podium finishes. Now comes word that the U.S. Olympic Committee will "leave no stone unturned" in looking at how the high hopes of US Speedskating collapsed in Sochi.

The news of a possible inquiry into what went wrong in the 2014 Games led Edward Williams, an attorney who represents speedskaters who have filed complaints with the USOC against US Speedskating, to vent his frustration.

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NPR News
4:11 pm
Mon November 18, 2013

Details Emerge About Colorado Mine Accident And Safety Record

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 5:43 pm

One of the men killed at the Revenue-Virginius mine in Ouray, Colo., on Sunday was trying to find the other miner who died.

New details of the incident from the Mine Safety and Health Administration were released Monday. The agency says in a statement that "preliminary information" indicates "that a miner entered an area of the mine where an explosive had been previously detonated."

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It's All Politics
6:30 am
Mon November 18, 2013

More Blame Congress Than Obama For Park Woes During Shutdown

U.S. Park Ranger Mirta Maltes stands near the road-closed sign leading to the Everglades National Park on Oct. 7 in Miami.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Mon November 18, 2013 8:17 am

It may seem like a distant memory, but the images are indelible: grizzled veterans tearing down barricades at the National World War II Memorial; armed rangers blocking national park entrance roads with massive signs and government SUVs; and county officials in Utah

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The Two-Way
12:00 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

2 Summer Olympic Cities Are Chasing The 2022 Winter Games

What's a few palm trees? Soaring snowcapped peaks and the aforementioned palms rise near the airport in Sochi, Russia, host of the 2014 Winter Games. Summer Olympics hosts Beijing and Stockholm are among the cities vying to win the 2022 Winter Games.
Mikhail Metzel AP

With the upcoming Winter Olympics set in a subtropical, palm tree-lined resort city on Russia's Black Sea, it's no surprise that two former Summer Olympics hosts are now seeking the 2022 Winter Games.

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The Two-Way
12:14 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

House Lawmakers Seek Federal Probe Of Black Lung Program

Two Democratic congressmen have formally asked the Labor Department's Inspector General to investigate "allegations of misconduct by doctors and lawyers working on behalf of the coal industry" and their roles in the denials of benefits for coal miners stricken with black lung disease.

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The Two-Way
12:32 pm
Mon November 4, 2013

Johns Hopkins Halts, Reviews Black Lung Program

Johns Hopkins Medicine says it will suspend and review its black lung program, following joint investigative reports last week from the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News that found the program "helped coal companies thwart efforts by ailing mine workers to receive disability benefi

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The Two-Way
3:06 pm
Tue October 29, 2013

Report Details Industry's 'Cutthroat' Fight Of Miners' Claims

My investigative reporting colleague Chris Hamby at the Center for Public Integrity has a compelling and troubling follow-up to our jointly-reported series last year on the resurgence of the deadly coal miners' disease black lung.

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The Two-Way
5:03 pm
Mon October 28, 2013

Theme Park Called 'Insensitive' For 'Miner's Revenge' Attraction

Originally published on Mon October 28, 2013 6:52 pm

Update at 8:45 p.m. ET:

Kings Dominion spokesman Gene Petriello says the theme park is dropping the Miner's Revenge maze from its Halloween lineup in the future.

"At the completion of each season, all Halloween attractions are reviewed to allow for new themes," Petriello says. "As part of its regular rotation, Kings Dominion does not intend to operate the Miner's Revenge Halloween attraction next year."

Petriello would not comment further.

Our original story continues:

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The Two-Way
4:05 pm
Mon October 21, 2013

Boy Scouts Eject Leaders Who Toppled Ancient Rock

A man topples a rock formation from the Jurassic Period.
YouTube

Originally published on Mon October 21, 2013 6:39 pm

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The Two-Way
10:42 am
Fri October 11, 2013

Some States Allowed To Reopen National Parks — And Foot The Bill

Dawn at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park is a favorite moment for photographers from all over the world. They'll soon be able to return to the park, given Utah's deal with the Interior Department to fund park operations.
Courtesy of Wanda Gayle

Originally published on Fri October 11, 2013 6:16 pm

"This is a godsend!" exclaimed Utah Gov. Gary Herbert late Thursday night, as he signed an agreement with the Department of the Interior to use state funds to reopen eight national park areas in his state for at least 10 days.

The Republican governor wasted no time in wiring $1.67 million to Washington overnight so that some of the areas can open as early as today. Rangers and other National Park Service employees will staff the parks as usual.

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The Two-Way
3:51 pm
Thu October 10, 2013

Feds To Consider State Funding To Reopen National Parks

An autumn scene in the canyon known as "The Subway" in Zion National Park in Utah, which is now off-limits to hikers and other tourists due to the government shutdown.
Wanda Gayle NPR

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 4:27 pm

With economic impacts mounting and one Utah county threatening to take over national parks, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she will "consider agreements with governors" to allow state funding of national parks so that some can reopen to visitors.

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The Two-Way
11:00 am
Thu October 10, 2013

Report: Parks Shutdown Saps $750 Million In Visitor Spending

A hiker gazes 3,000 feet down to the Colorado River at Toroweap Overlook in Grand Canyon National Park. A parks advocacy group says the Grand Canyon region has lost 120,000 visitors and $11 million in visitor spending since the government shutdown began.
Courtesy of Wanda Gayle

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 12:28 pm

An estimated 7 million people have been shut out at 12 of the busiest and biggest U.S. national parks, costing parks and nearby communities about $76 million in lost visitor spending for each day the partial government shutdown drags on.

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The Two-Way
4:26 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

Shutdown Prompts Emergency Declarations In Utah

The Virgin River Narrows in Zion National Park is a popular fall hike for thousands of visitors but the government shutdown has closed the park and drained tourism revenue and tax payments from local communities.
Wanda Gayle NPR

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 6:04 pm

Fed-up with declining tourism spending and tax revenue during the government shutdown, four Utah counties dependent on National Park and public lands visitors have declared states of emergency.

And Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has responded with a plea to President Obama to reopen the region's National Park areas with state, local and private funding.

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The Two-Way
3:41 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

NSA Says It Has 'Mitigated' Meltdowns At Utah Data Farm

A new National Security Agency data center in Bluffdale, Utah, has had electrical problems that will delay its opening, according to reports.
George Frey Getty Images

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 11:49 am

This was supposed to be the month the National Security Agency cranked up its biggest data farm yet, in a Salt Lake City suburb.

The $1.2 billion complex covers 1.5 million square feet, and includes 100,000 square feet devoted solely to computers and servers.

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Politics
2:14 am
Thu October 3, 2013

National Parks Close As Other Public Lands Stay Open

The road to Lee's Ferry, Ariz., is blocked by barricades and national park rangers. Lee's Ferry is the launching point for river trips down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park.
Scott Lee NPR

Originally published on Thu October 3, 2013 10:53 am

From Acadia in Maine to Zion in Utah to the North Cascades in Washington, America's 401 national park areas have gates blocking entrance roads.

The last remaining campers and hotel guests in the parks must leave Thursday, and park rangers will patrol to keep others out.

The national parks "belong to the American people, and the American people should have the right to come in," says National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. "But the only way I can protect these places during this period is to shut them down."

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All Tech Considered
3:54 pm
Mon September 23, 2013

Booting Up: New NSA Data Farm Takes Root In Utah

The National Security Agency says its massive new data center near Salt Lake City will enhance the agency's ability to analyze the email, text message, cellphone and landline metadata it collects.
Rick Bowmer AP

Originally published on Mon September 23, 2013 6:38 pm

The National Security Agency won't say exactly when it will fully rev up its newest and biggest data farm in the Salt Lake City suburb of Bluffdale, Utah. There will be no "grand opening" or celebratory barbecue outside the sprawling facility, which is five times the size of the Ikea down the road.

But, according to NSA spokeswoman Vanee' Vines, "We turn each machine on as it is installed, and the facility is ready for that installation to begin."

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The Two-Way
12:29 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 12:38 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
4:09 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

Wildfire Forces Kick Into Highest Gear

Originally published on Tue August 20, 2013 4:32 pm

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
11:28 am
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 1:31 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
4:51 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
4:55 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
5:05 pm
Tue July 2, 2013

Wildfire Season So Far: Tragic, Destructive And Below Average

Originally published on Wed July 3, 2013 7:13 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
4:08 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
4:21 pm
Fri June 21, 2013

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

Originally published on Fri June 21, 2013 5:30 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
4:53 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
1:23 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 4:32 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
7:48 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 9:49 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
12:58 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 8:01 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
2:31 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 6:29 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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Around the Nation
2:03 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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