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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5:43pm

Fri April 29, 2011
The Two-Way

Massey Energy Wants To Seal Upper Big Branch Coal Mine

Originally published on Fri April 29, 2011 6:52 pm

The site of last year's deadly coal mine explosion in West Virginia may be abandoned and sealed-off, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

29 coal miners died at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine a year ago in the nation's worst mine disaster in four decades.

"Massey Energy has indicated it wants to seal the UBB mine," says MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere. "A meeting is set for May 5 to discuss the plan for sealing the mine."

Massey has yet to respond to NPR's request for comment.

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4:55pm

Fri April 22, 2011
The Two-Way

FBI To Mine Disaster Families: You May Be Federal Crime Victims

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette confirmed a story today that had been rumored for months: The FBI has sent letters to the families of the 29 victims of last year's deadly coal mine disaster at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine in West Virginia.

"As you may be aware, the FBI has instituted an investigation into various activities at UBB in an effort to determine whether any federal crimes occurred," the letter says. "In connection therewith, you may be a victim of a Federal crime."

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8:07pm

Thu April 21, 2011
The Two-Way

Report: Idaho Mine With Trapped Miner Lacks Modern Communications

As workers continue to blast through solid rock to try to reach an Idaho silver miner missing in a cave-in, reporter Jessica Robinson of the Northwest News Network has produced a fascinating story about the antiquated communication technology used in the Lucky Friday mine. (We've posted the audio at the top of this post.)

"So you're working more than a mile below the surface of the Earth, and there's a cave in," Robinson begins. "How do you let someone know you're alive?"

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2:39pm

Thu April 21, 2011
The Two-Way

Still No Sign Of Missing Silver Miner At Site Of Idaho Cave-in

Here's a quick update on the search for 53-year-old Larry Marek, who has been missing more than a mile underground since a cave-in last Friday at Hecla Mining Company's Lucky Friday silver mine in Mullan, Idaho:

-- Workers are blasting through solid rock to reach the area behind the cave-in.

-- They've progressed 90 feet since Monday night, but have 130 feet to go.

-- A second rescue tunnel is proposed.

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9:48am

Wed April 20, 2011
The Two-Way

Mine Co. Gives Families Of West Virginia Victims Deadline For Settlements

The families of the 29 victims of last year's Upper Big Branch mine explosion now have until June 1 to accept $3 million settlement offers from mine owner Massey Energy.

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12:40pm

Tue April 19, 2011
The Two-Way

Rescuers Trying To Reach Idaho Miner Forced To Take Longer Route

Falling rock and the ongoing threat of more rock falls have forced rescuers to give up on the direct route to 53-year-old Larry Marek, who has been trapped in an Idaho silver mine since Friday.

Rescuers had been trying to dig through the rubble that fills a mine tunnel more than a mile underground. But a relatively small, remotely-controlled mucking machine was only able to make 40 feet of progress in three days.

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11:31am

Sat April 16, 2011
Around the Nation

Mine Execs Get Key Roles Despite Safety Problems

A top Massey Energy executive who presided over the company while it compiled some of the most criticized safety records in the coal mining industry will jointly manage the main safety program at Alpha Natural Resources if the two companies merge as expected.

That's one of the merger management shifts announced late Friday by Alpha that ensures key roles for several Massey executives in the combined company.

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6:38pm

Wed April 13, 2011
The Two-Way

First Guilty Plea In Mine Disaster Criminal Probe

A former foreman for Massey Energy has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the federal criminal investigation of last year's deadly coal mine disaster in West Virginia.

Thomas Harrah, 45, admits in a plea agreement (see below) to faking the foreman's credentials he used at the Upper Big Branch mine and then lying about it to federal agents.

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7:48am

Sat April 9, 2011
Mine Safety In America

Questions Remain Year After W. Va. Mine Explosion

One year ago tonight, mine rescuers discovered the remains of the last four missing coal miners deep inside Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

There had been hope that the four had made it to refuge chambers and were still alive. Optimistic rescuers carried four sets of breathing apparatus with them, hoping they would be used to bring the miners safely to the surface. The bodies of 25 other miners were found four days earlier.

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