NPR: John Burnett

As a roving NPR correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett's beat stretches across the U.S., and, sometimes, around the world. Normally, he focuses on the issues and people of the Southwest United States, providing investigative reports and traveling the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His special reporting projects have included New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and many reports on the Drug War in the Americas. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

Beginning with NPR in 1986, Burnett has reported from 25 different countries. His 2008 four-part series "Dirty Money," which examined how law enforcement agencies have gotten hooked on and, in some cases, corrupted by seized drug money, won three national awards: a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting and an Edward R. Murrow Award for the accompanying website. His 2007 three-part series "The Forgotten War," which took a critical look at the nation's 30-year war on drugs, won a Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for Excellence in Reporting on Drug and Alcohol Problems.

In 2006, Burnett's Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as a 2006 Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. In 2003, he was an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. His work was singled out by judges for the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award honoring the network's overall coverage of the Iraq War. Also in 2003, Burnett won a first place National Headliner Award for investigative reporting about corruption among federal immigration agents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the months following the attacks of Sept. 11, Burnett reported from New York City, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His reporting contributed to coverage that won the Overseas Press Club Award and an Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award.

In 2001, Burnett reported and produced a one-hour documentary, "The Oil Century," for KUT-FM in Austin, which won a silver prize at the New York Festivals. He was a visiting faculty member in broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in 2002 and 1997. He received a Ford Foundation Grant in 1997 for a special series on sustainable development in Latin America.

Burnett's favorite stories are those that reveal a hidden reality. He recalls happening upon Carlos Garcia, a Mexico City street musician who plays a musical leaf, a chance encounter that brought a rare and beautiful art form to a national audience. In reporting his series "Fraud Down on the Farm," Burnett spent nine months investigating the abuse of the United States crop insurance system and shining light on surprising stories of criminality.

Abroad, his report on the accidental U.S. Air Force bombing of the Iraqi village of Al-Taniya, an event that claimed 31 lives, helped listeners understand the fog of war. His "Cocaine Republics" series detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But listeners may say that one of his best remembered reports is an audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, about being at six-foot-seven the "tallest American at a Death to America" rally.

Prior to coming to NPR, Burnett was based in Guatemala City for United Press International covering the Central America civil wars. From 1979-1983, he was a general assignment reporter for various Texas newspapers.

Burnett graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in journalism.



Tue June 21, 2011

Trial Nears In Post-Katrina Bridge Shootings

Nearly six years later, the real story of what happened on the Danziger Bridge may finally come out.

On Wednesday, the biggest police abuse case in the modern history of the New Orleans Police Department gets under way. Federal prosecutors allege police officers shot and killed two unarmed civilians fleeing the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and maimed four others. Afterward, prosecutors claim, the police engaged in an elaborate cover-up to make it look like self-defense.

Read more


Fri May 27, 2011

Et Tu, Austin? Locals Start To Doubt Lance Armstrong

New allegations emerged late last week that cycling superstar Lance Armstrong used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Former teammate Tyler Hamilton said on CBS's 60 Minutes that he told a federal grand jury he and Armstrong both doped while riding for the U.S. Postal Team in Tour de France races.

In Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas, the newest accusations are beginning to tear at his reputation as the world's most famous cyclist.

'Shakespearean Tragedy'

Lance Armstrong is Austin's favorite son.

He lives here.

Read more


Mon May 23, 2011
The Picture Show

A Handmade Camera And A Vintage Trailer: On The Road To A Lost America

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:49 am

David Michael Kennedy with Heather Howard and Henry Crow Dog in front of their 1959 Airstream trailer.
Courtesy of David Michael Kennedy

David Michael Kennedy is a 60-year-old art photographer from New Mexico who took an extraordinary cross-country journey to rediscover what he thought was a lost America. He shares his photos here, and responds to a few questions.

Read more


Fri May 13, 2011
Music News

Hot Club Of Cowtown: A Texas Trio's Tribute

Hot Club of Cowtown's new album, What Makes Bob Holler, is a tribute to Western swing legend Bob Wills.
Courtesy of the artist

Several cities have "Hot Clubs" — bands that play so-called "Gypsy jazz" in the tradition of Django Reinhardt. There's the Hot Club of New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

Read more


Mon May 9, 2011
Reporter's Notebook

A Young Hitchhiker's Guide To The Road: Smile

I'm not in the habit of picking up hitchhikers, but the one I approached on Interstate 10 in west Texas not long ago looked different. He was a friendly-faced lad with his thumb out, a cardboard sign propped against his rucksack read "West," and he was playing a fiddle.

The day was overcast and traffic light. He was standing beside the road just beyond the city limits of Junction, a ranching town surrounded by limestone hills and dull-green junipers.

I pulled over.

Read more


Mon April 18, 2011
A Blog Supreme

A Tsunami Washes Away 10,000 Albums, But The Music Plays On

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami took more than 13,000 lives and wiped whole towns off the map of Japan. One of the lesser-known casualties was the loss of a great jazz record collection — the life's work of one man.

It belonged to Ken Terui, a jazz aficionado who owns Johnny's Jazz Cafe in the northeastern prefectural (state) capital of Morioka, a rural region known more for aging rice farmers than jazz lovers. Discovering Terui's club — everybody calls him Johnny — was the high point of my three-week assignment in Japan covering the aftermath of the tsunami.

Read more


Tue April 12, 2011
Japan In Crisis

Japanese Youth Step Up In Earthquake Aftermath

Amid the destruction and devastation left by Japan's earthquake and tsunami, Japanese youth have stepped up in volunteering to help.

Aided by social media, young people unused to pitching in are streaming toward the devastated northeast coast, eager to deliver relief supplies and clean up.

Kenta Umeda arrived in the town of Ishinomaki last weekend from Tokyo to help haul garbage out of neighborhoods that were destroyed by the tsunami. For the trip, he loaded some new music into his iPod, hung an alarm whistle around his neck and tucked some drumsticks into his backpack.

Read more


Sun April 10, 2011

In Japan, Many Still Living On The Edge



The government of Japan has established a 12-mile evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. Within the 12- to 20-mile zone, people can remain where they are, but they must stay indoors because the reactors are leaking radiation into the air.

Outside the danger zone, people are trying to resume normal lives, but it's not so easy, as NPR's John Burnett reports from the city of Soma.

Read more