Howard Berkes | KUNC

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.


A former foreman for Massey Energy has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the federal criminal investigation of last year's deadly coal mine disaster in West Virginia.

Thomas Harrah, 45, admits in a plea agreement (see below) to faking the foreman's credentials he used at the Upper Big Branch mine and then lying about it to federal agents.

One year ago tonight, mine rescuers discovered the remains of the last four missing coal miners deep inside Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

There had been hope that the four had made it to refuge chambers and were still alive. Optimistic rescuers carried four sets of breathing apparatus with them, hoping they would be used to bring the miners safely to the surface. The bodies of 25 other miners were found four days earlier.

One year after 29 coal miners lost their lives in a massive explosion in West Virginia, state and federal officials vowed not to let such a disaster happen again.

"We will never forget this tragedy," said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis at a memorial service in Whitesville, W.Va., on Tuesday. "Because only by remembering will we continue our vigilance to make sure that this type of tragedy never happens again."

Solis spoke at the second of two services held on the first anniversary of the tragedy at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine.

Part two of a two-part series.

One year after a West Virginia mine explosion took 29 lives, questions linger about the time it took to find and identify victims, and notify their families.

An NPR News investigation has discovered new details about the search and rescue effort, and problems that plagued mine rescuers.

The new details emerged from an analysis of command center notes and other documents obtained by NPR.

Part 1 of a two-part series

Nearly one year after the nation's worst mine disaster in four decades, records reveal a slow and tepid initial response to the dire emergency at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia.

Twenty-nine mineworkers died on April 5, 2010, as a fierce explosion ripped through underground entryways, turning corners and splitting like a "T." The blast stretched two miles in one direction and three miles in the other, toward the entrance to the mine.

A new lawsuit filed by the widow of a victim of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster runs counter to claims by government officials that all but one of the 29 miners killed died instantly and without suffering.

The lawsuit was filed in the circuit court in Boone County, W.Va., by Geneva Lynch. Her husband, William Roosevelt Lynch, was among nine Massey Energy coal miners riding in a mantrip — or shuttle car — within two miles of the entrance of the mine when the April 5, 2010, explosion occurred.

The criminal investigation into last April's deadly coal mine explosion in West Virginia has produced a second set of charges.

But, like the first, the new two-count criminal "information" just filed by the U.S. Attorney in Charleston, W. Va., does not directly involve the April 5 blast at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine, which killed 29 mine workers and injured two others.

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher said he disrupted an oil and gas leasing auction in 2008 to prevent greater harm to the planet. But a federal jury in Salt Lake City has decided instead that DeChristopher is guilty of two federal felonies.

"We know now I'll have to go to prison," DeChristopher, 29, told supporters outside the courthouse after the verdict was read.

Internal audits at the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reveal inadequate, incomplete and insufficient mine safety inspections and enforcement in the two years before last year's deadly mine explosion in West Virginia.