Howard Berkes
Stephen Voss/NPR

Howard Berkes

Correspondent, Investigations

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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Businessman Jim Justice announces he's running for governor of West Virginia. Federal regulators say that as of March he hadn't paid more than $2 million in fines for safety violations in his coal mines. Chris Tilley/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Chris Tilley/AP

John Coffell sits at his grandmother's table in Hulen, Okla. An injury at a tire plant last year left him unable to work. Brett Deering for ProPublica/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Brett Deering for ProPublica/AP

Dennis Whedbee, of Homer City, Pa., lost half of his left arm in a drilling accident in North Dakota in September 2012. Jeff Swensen for ProPublica hide caption

itoggle caption Jeff Swensen for ProPublica

Frances Stevens uses a custom ramp leading to her van. An accident at work in 1997 left her unable to walk. She received full workers' compensation benefits until two years ago, when the insurer withdrew her medications and home health aide. Her lawsuit is a test of California's use of anonymous, independent medical reviewers. Glenna Gordon for ProPublica hide caption

itoggle caption Glenna Gordon for ProPublica

Joel Ramirez climbs back into his wheelchair with the help of Francisco Guardado, a home health aide, at his home in Rialto, Calif. Patrick T. Fallon for ProPublica hide caption

itoggle caption Patrick T. Fallon for ProPublica

Jeremy Lewis lost his left arm during a work-related incident while working at a poultry plant in Alabama. The state has the nation's lowest workers' compensation benefits for amputations and sent Lewis into just the kind of downward spiral workers' comp was intended to prevent. Dustin Chambers for ProPublica hide caption

itoggle caption Dustin Chambers for ProPublica

Former Massey Energy Company Chairman and CEO Don Blankenship, seen in July 2010, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy charges associated with the 2010 West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 men. Jacquelyn Martin/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Joel Ramirez climbs back into his wheelchair with the help of Francisco Guardado, a home health aide, at his home in Rialto, Calif. Ramirez was paralyzed from the waist down in 2009 when a 900-pound crate fell on him at a warehouse. Changes to California workers' compensation laws have impacted his quality of care. Patrick T. Fallon for ProPublica hide caption

itoggle caption Patrick T. Fallon for ProPublica