It's been eight months since an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia claimed the lives of 29 coal miners. Many of the victims' surviving family members continue to grieve, yet few have spoken publically. In a story this week, however, Gene Jones talked to NPR correspondent Howard Berkes about the pain of losing his twin brother, Dean, in the tragedy and why he believes speaking out is important. "We're just going to be forgotten," Jones says, while mine disasters are "going to continue and continue and continue to go on. We need it fixed."
One reason Jones agreed to share his story on NPR may be due to Berkes' series of NPR News Investigation stories following the aftermath of the disaster. In the past months, Berkes has closely reported developments and delivered exclusive findings, including the fact that two officials from Upper Big Branch owner Massey Energy were underground unsupervised for four hours after the blast, and the Labor Department's unprecedented action seeking its first-ever federal injunction to shut down another Massey-owned mine in Kentucky.
Today, the Sidney Hillman Foundation announced it is honoring Berkes' efforts with their Sidney Award for November. The Foundation gives the monthly award for an outstanding piece of socially-conscious journalism. Impressed by Berkes' tenacity, the Foundation notes he "did a dozen on-air stories for NPR about Massey, and wrote or co-wrote another fifteen pieces for the radio network's website."
You can read the Sidney Hillman Foundation's official November Sidney Award announcement here and also check out the Foundation's interview with Berkes here.