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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11:32am

Wed November 30, 2011
The Two-Way

Despite Warnings From Inspector, One Iowa Town Still Battles Toxic Air

Originally published on Wed November 30, 2011 11:35 am

The Grain Processing Corp. plant in Muscatine, Iowa.
Chris Hamby Center for Public Integrity

4:55am

Thu November 17, 2011
The Two-Way

EPA Takes Action Against Toxic Arizona Copper Plant

Originally published on Thu November 17, 2011 10:40 am

A haze can be seen at night hovering over the Asarco copper smelter, which turns copper ore into nearly pure copper bars.
Emma Schwartz Center for Public Integrity

2:00am

Thu November 17, 2011
Environment

EPA Sites Asarco For Toxic Violations

The Environmental Protection Agency says the Asarco copper smelter in Hayden, Arizona, has been continuously emitting illegal amounts of lead, arsenic and eight other dangerous toxins, for the last six years. The agency's finding means Asarco could face millions of dollars in fines and could be forced to install expensive pollution controls. The EPA disclosed the action last week to NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, which were jointly investigating toxic air pollution in the town.

3:00am

Thu November 10, 2011
Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

EPA Regulations Give Kilns Permission To Pollute

The Ash Grove Cement Kiln, as seen from an aerial photograph, sits on the northern edge of Chanute, Kan.
David Gilkey NPR

Part three of a four-part series, Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities.

The smokestack stands more than nine stories above the southeastern Kansas prairie and the small city of Chanute, and it's bright, white flashing lights are like a beacon in the night sky.

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3:00am

Mon November 7, 2011
Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

Oklahoma Town Battles Powdery Carbon Pollution

Originally published on Thu November 10, 2011 11:55 am

The Continental Carbon plant sits on the southern outskirts of Ponca City, Okla. Residents blamed the plant, which produces a black dust known as carbon black, for polluting their city.
David Gilkey NPR

Part 2 of a four-part series, Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

Karen Howe couldn't believe her luck. As a single mom working a minimum-wage job and living with two kids in a crowded one-bedroom apartment in Ponca City, Okla., she was desperate for a three-bedroom house and a lawn.

Howe, a member of the Ponca tribe, was offered tribal housing in a small, tree-lined subdivision of 11 homes on the southern, rural edge of the city.

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