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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11:20am

Wed June 1, 2011
The Two-Way

Massey-Alpha Coal Mine Merger Approved By Shareholders

The shareholders of coal mine giants Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources overwhelmingly approved a merger this morning, despite challenges from some large institutional investors and an ongoing controversy about Massey executives moving into the management structure of the merged company.

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2:10pm

Tue May 31, 2011
The Two-Way

Court Documents Allege 'Secret Pact' In Massey Coal Merger

Documents just unsealed in a lawsuit involving the pending merger of coal mine giants Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources claim a "secret pact" promised high-level jobs to Massey officials if the company agreed to the takeover.

The Massey officials include several who were directly involved in the management of Massey's Upper Big Branch coal mine, where 29 mine workers died in a massive explosion last year, and in the investigation of that disaster.

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11:26am

Tue May 31, 2011
The Two-Way

State Court Declines To Block Massey Merger; Unseals Some Documents

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has declined a request to block Wednesday's expected takeover of coal mine giant Massey Energy by Alpha Natural Resources.

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6:58pm

Mon May 23, 2011
The Two-Way

Shareholders Make Last-Ditch Attempt To Block Massey Merger

While we were focused last week on the report that severely criticized Massey Energy for the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster, the company quietly submitted a document to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that reveals new details about a pending merger with Alpha Natural Resources.

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10:00am

Thu May 19, 2011
Mine Safety In America

Report Blasts Massey For 'Deviance' In Safety Culture

Two officers with the Raleigh County Sheriff's Office stand guard in front of the Upper Big Branch coal mine several days after the April 5, 2010, explosion that killed 29 workers in Montcoal, W.Va.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

The first investigative report about last year's coal mine disaster in West Virginia blames a corporate "culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable, where deviation became the norm" for the deaths of 29 Massey Energy mine workers.

The report was produced by an independent team of investigators appointed by former West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin and led by Davitt McAteer, a former federal mine safety chief who has investigated other mine disasters in the state.

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