NPR: Howard Berkes

Howard Berkes has been NPR's rural affairs correspondent since March 2003 focusing on the politics, economics, and culture of rural America.

Based in Salt Lake City, Berkes reports on stories that are often unique to non-urban communities or provide a rural perspective on major issues and events. In 2005, he was part of the NPR reporting team that covered Hurricane Katrina and in 2010, he reported from West Virginia on the disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine. Berkes’ reporting also includes the impact 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 covered seven Olympic games including the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. He 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 has also been 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. 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.

Reporting by Berkes in 1998 helped transform the Olympic bribery scandal from a local story in Utah into a media firestorm and attracted international attention. His ongoing reporting of Olympic politics and the Olympic Games has made him a resource to other news organizations, including The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, MSNBC, A&E's Investigative Reports, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the French magazine L'Express, and many 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 has covered Native American issues, the militia movement, neo-nazi groups, nuclear waste, the Unabomber case, the Montana Freemen standoff, polygamy, western water issues, 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, and the National Association of Science Writers.

Berkes also trains news reporters, consults with radio news departments, and serves as a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Berkes was awarded a Nieman Foundation Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University in 1997.

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7:43pm

Tue June 4, 2013
The Two-Way

U.S. Skater Will Boycott Disciplinary Hearing On Tampering

Originally published on Wed June 5, 2013 11:38 am

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

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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7:16pm

Tue May 21, 2013
The Two-Way

Idaho Terrorism Suspect Waives Detention Hearing

Originally published on Wed May 22, 2013 11:55 am

Fazliddin Kurbanov, shown in an undated image provided by the Idaho State Police.
AP

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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11:40am

Tue May 21, 2013
The Two-Way

Big Changes At U.S. Speedskating Body, But Scandals Linger

Originally published on Tue May 21, 2013 12:56 pm

Speedskaters practiced for the U.S. Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships in Kearns, Utah, last year.
Rick Bowmer AP

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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12:47pm

Fri May 17, 2013
Shots - Health News

Doctors Confirm Black Lung In Victims Of Mine Blast

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 5:20 pm

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

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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4:56pm

Wed May 8, 2013
The Two-Way

Teen Charged With Homicide After Death Of Soccer Referee

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 5:34 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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1:37pm

Fri April 26, 2013
The Two-Way

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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9:58am

Tue April 16, 2013
The Two-Way

The Cruelest Month: Boston Blasts Join List Of Dark Incidents

Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 1:04 pm

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

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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7:08pm

Fri April 12, 2013
The Two-Way

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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6:16pm

Mon April 8, 2013
The Two-Way

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

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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3:24pm

Fri March 29, 2013
The Two-Way

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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12:03am

Sun March 24, 2013
Buried In Grain

Fines Slashed In Grain Bin Entrapment Deaths

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

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

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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12:10pm

Tue March 5, 2013
The Two-Way

U.S. Speedskating Investigating Sexual Abuse Allegations

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

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

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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1:41pm

Wed February 13, 2013
The Two-Way

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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11:09am

Wed February 6, 2013
The Two-Way

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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3:19pm

Mon February 4, 2013
The Two-Way

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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2:20pm

Thu January 17, 2013
The Two-Way

Massey Mine Boss Sentenced; Feds Toughen Mine Safety Rule

Originally published on Thu January 17, 2013 2:28 pm

Mine helmets and painted crosses were placed at the entrance to Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine as a memorial to the 29 miners killed there.
Jeff Gentner AP

Nearly three years after a deadly mine explosion in West Virginia, a former Massey Energy mine superintendent has been sentenced to prison and federal regulators have toughened a regulation that could have helped prevent the disaster.

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3:07pm

Mon December 3, 2012
The Two-Way

Salt Lake City Says It's 'Ready, Willing And Able' To Host Another Olympics

Originally published on Mon December 3, 2012 3:08 pm

Among the stars of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was Team USA's Apolo Anton Ohno. The city and Utah want another chance to host the games.
Jacques DeMarthon AFP/Getty Images

Ten years after jumpstarting Mitt Romney's political career with a widely-praised Winter Olympics, officials in Utah say they're ready to do it all over again.

But there's no word on whether the unemployed Romney is interested in reprising his role as Salt Lake City Olympics chief. He would be 78, after all, when the 2026 games roll around. That's the earliest opportunity for a Winter Olympics in the United States.

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10:57am

Wed November 28, 2012
The Two-Way

Mine Disaster Probe Leads To Conspiracy Charges Against Former Executive

Originally published on Wed November 28, 2012 12:36 pm

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

Federal prosecutors in West Virginia stepped higher up the corporate ladder at Massey Energy Wednesday with new criminal charges stemming from the investigation of the 2010 coal mine explosion that killed 29 workers.

David C. Hughart was president of Massey's Green Valley Resource Group, a major coal mining subsidiary based in Leivasy, W. Va., from 2000 to 2010.

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4:23pm

Wed November 7, 2012
It's All Politics

After Romney's Loss, Mormons Lament What Might Have Been

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 10:43 am

Mormons line up outside the historic Salt Lake Temple for an annual conference in April 2010.
George Frey Getty Images

Poor Chris Stewart. The former Air Force pilot had just won a landslide victory in his first bid for Congress in Utah, but the crowd of Republicans listening to his acceptance speech at a Salt Lake City hotel kept pointing to the massive television screen behind him.

"Do you want me to stop?" Stewart asked. "You would rather listen to Gov. Romney than to me, wouldn't you?"

Some in the crowd shouted "Yes!" and the sound of Romney's concession speech filled the room.

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2:27am

Tue October 16, 2012
Election 2012

Poll: Romney Has Large Lead In Rural Swing Counties

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 4:16 pm

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Gilbert, S.C., earlier this year.
Charles Dharapak AP

As Mitt Romney and President Obama get ready for their second debate, a new bipartisan survey shows a surge for Romney in a key voter group following their first debate Oct. 3.

The random cellphone and land line poll of 600 likely rural voters in nine battleground states Oct. 9-11 has Romney at 59 percent among the survey's respondents. Obama's support is now down to 37 percent among rural battleground voters, a plunge of 10 points from the actual rural vote in those states four years ago.

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5:18pm

Fri October 12, 2012
The Two-Way

Embattled U.S. Speedskating Coach Responds To Resignation And Suspension

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 6:56 pm

A day after resigning under pressure from U.S. Speedskating, former head coach Jae Su Chun says he didn't report a tampering incident at an international meet last year to protect skater Simon Cho, who confessed to sabotaging a Canadian athlete's skate blade.

"I know I chose Simon over my own principles," Chun says in a written statement translated from Korean by a spokesman.

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3:12pm

Fri October 12, 2012
The Two-Way

New Regulations Aimed At Black Lung Disease Appear To Be Stalled

Originally published on Sat October 13, 2012 12:37 pm

Reporting by the Charleston Gazette this week suggests that the Obama administration's efforts to impose tough new limits on miners' exposure to coal dust have stalled.

The United Mine Workers Union suggests election year politics may be the reason.

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7:48pm

Thu October 11, 2012
The Two-Way

Embattled Speedskating Coaches Resign

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 9:41 pm

Speedskaters practice for the U.S. Single Distance Short Track Speedskating Championships, in Kearns, Utah, last month. Coach Jae Su Chun and assistant Jun Hyung Yao have resigned following allegations of abuse.
Rick Bowmer AP

5:03am

Fri October 5, 2012
Sports

U.S. Speedskater Admits To Sabotaging Rival's Skates

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 4:19 pm

Simon Cho competes in the men's 500-meter finals at the 2011 ISU World Cup short track speedskating final in Dresden, Germany. He won the event.
Robert Michael AFP/Getty Images

American speedskater Simon Cho says what he did was "wrong" when he yielded to what he claims was persistent pressure from a coach to tamper with another skater's blades at the World Short Track Team Championships in Poland last year.

"Tampering with someone's skates is inexcusable," Cho told NPR in his first interview about the incident. "And I'm coming out now and admitting that I did this and acknowledging that what I did was wrong." The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune also spoke with Cho earlier this week after the NPR interview.

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5:32pm

Thu September 27, 2012
The Two-Way

Skaters Detail Abuse And Sabotage Allegations As Racing Season Begins

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 5:18 pm

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

More than the ice is frosty at the Olympic Oval outside Salt Lake City this week, as short track speedskaters begin the 2012-2013 season.

U.S. skaters are split over allegations of abuse leveled against two coaches and a claim that one coach ordered the sabotage of a Canadian competitor's skates at an international competition last year.

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11:36pm

Sun September 23, 2012
Presidential Race

Romney Rules Rural As Obama's Support Wanes

Originally published on Tue September 25, 2012 9:08 am

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney autographs a coal miner's hat during a campaign event Aug. 14 at American Energy Corp. in Beallsville, Ohio.
Mary Altaffer AP

The nation's smallest and most remote places are providing Mitt Romney's biggest margins in battleground states as the 2012 presidential race enters its final weeks.

In fact, rural counties are keeping Romney competitive in the states that are now up for grabs. That's what a new bipartisan survey indicates. The poll also finds that President Obama's rural support has plunged since 2008.

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4:08pm

Thu September 20, 2012
The Two-Way

U.S. Speedskater Accused Of Sabotaging Rival

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 6:53 pm

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

The allegations of physical and verbal abuse at U.S. Speedskating have a new twist: A coach allegedly directed a skater to tamper with the skates of a Canadian competitor at an international competition last year — and the skater complied.

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2:05pm

Wed September 19, 2012
The Two-Way

Speedskaters Step Up Abuse Allegations Against Coach

Originally published on Wed September 19, 2012 3:19 pm

The abuse allegations against U.S. Olympic short track speedskating coach Jae Su Chun have escalated with a demand for arbitration and an "open and ongoing investigation" by police.

But while a large group of skaters charge Chun with abuse, another set has issued a statement in support of the coach.

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10:05am

Mon September 17, 2012
The Two-Way

Short Track Speedskating Coach Put On Leave Amid Abuse Allegations

Originally published on Mon September 17, 2012 6:19 pm

Short track speedskating coach Jae Su Chun was a guest at a State Dinner at the White House in May 2010.
Alexis C. Glenn UPI /Landov

U.S. Speedskating has placed head short track coach Jae Su Chun on administrative leave in response to complaints of physical, verbal and psychological abuse.

Nineteen current and former skaters, including five Olympic medalists, signed complaints filed with U.S. Speedskating and the U.S. Olympic Committee. An attorney for the skaters says two of the athletes are also completing police reports in Utah, where U.S. Speedskating is based and where the athletes train.

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7:48am

Thu August 9, 2012
NPR Story

U.S. Women's Soccer, Water Polo Team Go For Gold

Originally published on Thu August 9, 2012 8:12 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Two big gold medal matches of the Olympics are set for tonight in London. Both involve American women's teams with extraordinary incentives to win.

In water polo, the U.S. women are trying to end 12 years of frustration and finally take the gold. And in soccer, the Americans have a chance at redemption. They play Japan, which beat them in last year's World Cup final in a game-ending shootout.

From London, NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

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