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 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

The two men involved in the destruction of an ancient rock formation in a Utah state park have been stripped of their leadership positions in the Boy Scouts of America and drummed out of scouting altogether.

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The Two-Way
10:56 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
3:56 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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The Two-Way
3:00 pm
Tue September 24, 2013

Jailed Massey Mine Boss Claims He Was Company's Sacrificial Lamb

A jailed, former superintendent of Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine claims his attorney colluded with attorneys for the company and its executives to avoid testimony about complicity in his crimes.

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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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