John Burnett

As a roving NPR correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett's beat stretches across the U.S., and, sometimes, around the world. Currently, he is serving as NPR's Religion correspondent.

In December 2012, he returned from a five-month posting in Nairobi as the East Africa Correspondent. Normally, he focuses on the issues and people of the Southwest United States, providing investigative reports and traveling the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. His special reporting projects have included New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and many reports on the Drug War in the Americas. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition.

Burnett has reported from more than 30 different countries since 1986. His 2008 four-part series "Dirty Money," which examined how law enforcement agencies have gotten hooked on and, in some cases, corrupted by seized drug money, won three national awards: a Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Investigative Reporting, a Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists Award for Investigative Reporting and an Edward R. Murrow Award for the accompanying website. His 2007 three-part series "The Forgotten War," which took a critical look at the nation's 30-year war on drugs, won a Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for Excellence in Reporting on Drug and Alcohol Problems.

In 2006, Burnett's Uncivilized Beasts & Shameless Hellions: Travels with an NPR Correspondent was published by Rodale Press. In that year, he also served as a 2006 Ethics Fellow at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.

In 2004, Burnett won a national Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for investigative reporting for his story on the accidental U.S. bombing of an Iraqi village. In 2003, he was an embedded reporter with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq. His work was singled out by judges for the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award honoring the network's overall coverage of the Iraq War. Also in 2003, Burnett won a first place National Headliner Award for investigative reporting about corruption among federal immigration agents on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the months following the attacks of Sept. 11, Burnett reported from New York City, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His reporting contributed to coverage that won the Overseas Press Club Award and an Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award.

In 2001, Burnett reported and produced a one-hour documentary, "The Oil Century," for KUT-FM in Austin, which won a silver prize at the New York Festivals. He was a visiting faculty member in broadcast journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in 2002 and 1997. He received a Ford Foundation Grant in 1997 for a special series on sustainable development in Latin America.

Burnett's favorite stories are those that reveal a hidden reality. He recalls happening upon Carlos Garcia, a Mexico City street musician who plays a musical leaf, a chance encounter that brought a rare and beautiful art form to a national audience. In reporting his series "Fraud Down on the Farm," Burnett spent nine months investigating the abuse of the United States crop insurance system and shining light on surprising stories of criminality.

Abroad, his report on the accidental U.S. Air Force bombing of the Iraqi village of Al-Taniya, an event that claimed 31 lives, helped listeners understand the fog of war. His "Cocaine Republics" series detailed the emergence of Central America as a major drug smuggling region. But listeners may say that one of his best remembered reports is an audio postcard he filed while on assignment in Peshawar, Pakistan, about being at six-foot-seven the "tallest American at a Death to America" rally.

Prior to coming to NPR, Burnett was based in Guatemala City for United Press International covering the Central America civil wars. From 1979-1983, he was a general assignment reporter for various Texas newspapers.

Burnett graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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Africa
8:35 am
Fri November 30, 2012

Tanzania's Albinos Face Constant Threat Of Attack

Angel Salvatory, 17, buys cloth at a market in Kabanga village in Tanzania. Albinos living in a nearby protection center are allowed to go to the local market as long as they travel in a group for their own safety.
Jacquelyn Martin for NPR

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 4:44 pm

Life is hard for albinos throughout Africa, but especially in the East African nation of Tanzania. At best, they face raw prejudice; at worst, they are hunted for their flesh, the results of superstitious beliefs.

Albino killings have been reported in a dozen African countries from South Africa to Kenya, but they are worse in Tanzania than anywhere else.

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The Salt
3:16 am
Mon November 26, 2012

At His Own Risk, Somali Chef Creates Gourmet Haven In War-Weary Mogadishu

Somali chef Ahmed Jama holds up freshly caught spiny lobsters he's about to cook in one of his restaurants in Mogadishu.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 2:48 pm

Ahmed Jama was running a successful Somali cafe in southwest London when he decided it was time to go home. Against the urgent advice of friends, he returned to Mogadishu three years ago and started cooking.

Jama epitomizes the spirit of rebirth in the city that has been brutalized by 21 years of civil war. As expatriates return to take their homeland back from warlords, terrorists and looters, Jama is doing his part to revive Mogadishu one prawn at a time.

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Africa
4:02 am
Sun November 25, 2012

Aid Workers Struggle To Provide Services In Congo

Congolese flee the eastern town of Sake, just west of Goma, on Friday. Fighting between rebel and government forces in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has displaced at least 100,000 people.
Jerome Delay AP

Originally published on Sun November 25, 2012 3:47 pm

The rebel movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo has set off another humanitarian crisis. Tens of thousands of displaced villagers who fled the fighting are on the march with their belongings, and someone has to take care of them.

Into this sea of need wades Tariq Riebl, a tall 34-year-old German with a shaved head. He is the humanitarian program coordinator for the international charity Oxfam in the rebel-held city of Goma.

"Basically, what we're going to do, we have two teams," Riebl says.

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Africa
3:01 pm
Fri November 23, 2012

Rebel Advances In Congo Sends Civilians Fleeing

To escape fighting, thousands of civilians flee the town of Sake in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Thursday. Rebels captured Sake and made other advances in the area this week. Eastern Congo and the larger region have been the scene of frequent fighting over the past two decades.
Phil Moore AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri November 23, 2012 5:29 pm

It's a scene that's become wearily repetitive in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo: An uprising drives out poorly trained government troops, creating havoc and sending large numbers of refugees fleeing for their lives.

This time the rebel group is M23, or March 23. Their revolt began this spring, and earlier this week they took Goma, an important town on the country's eastern border, just across Lake Kivu from Rwanda. The rebels then proceeded to take the next town over, Sake.

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World
2:32 pm
Thu November 8, 2012

Elated Kenyans Revel In Obama Win

Kenyans dance at a watch party for the U.S. presidential election in Kogelo village, home to President Obama's step-grandmother. Kenyans were elated by the president's re-election.
Ben Curtis AP

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 4:02 pm

As the news spread that the son of the late Barack Obama Sr. — a Kenyan government economist — had held on to the most powerful presidency in the world, the elation across this East African nation was contagious.

One Nairobi radio DJ could scarcely contain himself on Wednesday. "How are your feelings this morning, this Obama Day morning? Talk to me and share your feelings with me," he said.

High Hopes For A Long-Expected Visit

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Music News
12:03 am
Sat November 3, 2012

Radio Tanzania: A Disappearing History On Tape

Radio Tanzania archivist Bruno Nanguka stands with just a few of the 15,000 reel-to-reel tapes stored in the station's archives.
Jonathan Kalan

Originally published on Sat November 3, 2012 5:10 pm

At the archives of Radio Tanzania, more than 15,000 reel-to-reel tapes are stacked in floor-to-ceiling shelves. Each band, musician and recording date is painstakingly notated. The tapes reside inside three musty rooms of the Tanzania Broadcasting Corp., which occupies the old brick-and-concrete BBC building in Dar es Salaam.

Radio Tanzania was the country's only station from its birth in 1951 until the mid-1990s, when competing stations came on the air and state-controlled radio became irrelevant.

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Africa
2:13 pm
Thu October 25, 2012

In A Tanzanian Village, Elephant Poachers Thrive

Poaching is rife in Tanzania game reserves. This elephant was killed, and its tusks taken, at the Lake Chala Safari Camp, a small, private reserve near Mount Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 6:16 pm

An insatiable demand for ivory in Asia is fueling a massive slaughter of elephants across Africa. As NPR's John Burnett reports, one of the worst poaching hot spots is Tanzania. In this story, he visits an ivory poacher's town that sits next to a major game reserve.

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Africa
2:38 am
Thu October 25, 2012

Poachers Decimate Tanzania's Elephant Herds

Tanzania has been identified as the leading exporter of illegal ivory in recent years. An estimated 10,000 elephants are being slaughtered in the country annually. Here, elephants walk in the Serengeti National Reserve in northern Tanzania in 2010.
Tony Karumba AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 9:17 am

"The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it." — Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness

Conrad wrote more than a century ago, when there were no laws against shooting elephants. If anything, today's restrictions on the ivory trade have only increased its value.

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World
3:17 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

As Somalia's War Ebbs, Mogadishu Dares To Rebuild

Somalis chat at a beach-side restaurant earlier this month. After two decades of civil war, Somali's capital, Mogadishu, is beginning to recover.
Feisal Omar Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 5:37 pm

There is a remarkable change going on in Mogadishu, Somalia — often dubbed the world's most dangerous city. For starters, it may not deserve that title anymore.

Last year, African Union forces drove the Islamist militant group al-Shabab out of Mogadishu. Now, Somalia has a new president and prime minister who have replaced the corrupt and unpopular transitional government.

Hope is edging aside despair, and Mogadishu is coming back to life.

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Africa
2:23 am
Fri October 12, 2012

Forest People Return To Their Land ... As Tour Guides

In 1991, the Batwa forest people of Uganda were evicted from their land when two national parks were created to protect the shrinking habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla. A new program is trying to help them earn money and reconnect with their roots.
Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for NPR

Originally published on Fri October 12, 2012 9:55 pm

Like other hunter-gatherers of Central Africa who've been cast out of their jungle homes, when the Batwa forest people of southwest Uganda lost their forest, they lost their identity.

The Batwa were evicted from their rain forest kingdom in 1991, when two neighboring national parks, Mgahinga and Bwindi, were created to protect shrinking habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla.

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