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.

Pages

Africa
5:55 am
Sat August 4, 2012

Kenya's Youngest 'Outcasts' Emerge From Shadows

Alice Njeri found work, and her 10-year-old son Mike — who is physically and mentally disabled — received therapy and other services at a community center in Maai Mahiu, outside Nairobi, Kenya.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Sat August 4, 2012 6:07 pm

Kenyan Alice Njeri knew by the fourth month that something was terribly wrong with her infant son, Mike. When the baby boy was in the hospital recovering from a case of pneumonia, the doctors told Njeri that he was paralyzed on his left side and mentally disabled.

It appeared that Mike would grow up severely disabled in a country that shunned children with disabilities as curses from God.

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Africa
4:11 pm
Thu August 2, 2012

At Age One, A Tattered Reputation For South Sudan

Justice John Gatwech, chairman of the South Sudan Anti-Corruption Commission, says his organization is doing its best to track stolen assets, but it lacks trained investigators and prosecutorial power.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 7:45 pm

There were hopes that the new rulers of South Sudan might somehow break the African mold of big men lining their pockets with big money. But the trend in Juba, the capital, is alarming. The infant nation of South Sudan is barely a year old, and it's already engulfed in scandals over top officials allegedly looting the treasury.

Many South Sudanese citizens are outraged by the conduct of their new leaders, former guerrilla commanders who fought many years for independence.

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London 2012: The Summer Olympics
6:19 am
Sat July 28, 2012

Kenyan Runners Dash To Olympic Gold, And Wealth

Every day at 9 a.m. sharp in Iten, Kenya, 200 or so runners — most of them unknowns hoping to become champions — train on the dirt roads surrounding the town.
John Burnett NPR

Originally published on Sat July 28, 2012 8:09 pm

The long- and middle-distance runners to watch during the London Olympics are from Kenya, a country with a rich tradition of producing elite track athletes. The country won 14 medals four years ago in the Beijing Olympics.

Many of the world's best marathoners have come from a highland region above the Great Rift Valley. There, the famed town of Iten produces some of the fastest humans on Earth.

'I Want To Be Rich'

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Africa
2:27 pm
Mon July 16, 2012

Kenya's Free Schools Bring A Torrent Of Students

Kenya's attempt at universal education faces multiple challenges. In many rural areas, families want their kids to work during the day. At this school in central Kenya, Samburu kids who herd the family livestock are now taking classes in the evening.
Tony Karumba AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon July 16, 2012 6:22 pm

Parents of U.S. students often complain about things like too many standardized tests or unhealthful school lunches. Kenya wishes it had such problems.

Kenya dropped or greatly reduced fees at public schools nearly a decade ago in an effort to make education available to all children. On one level, it's been a success — school attendance has soared. Yet this has also exacerbated chronic problems that include shortages of qualified teachers, books, desks and just about every other basic need.

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U.S.
6:08 am
Sun July 8, 2012

Texas Seeks New Water Supplies Amid Drought

Receding water at Lake Travis near Austin, Texas, has the state concerned about its water supply. In 2011, Lake Travis had the lowest inflow since it was created about 70 years ago.
Joshua Lott Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Sun July 8, 2012 2:59 pm

The punishing seven-year drought of the 1950s in Texas brought about the modern era of water planning. But the drought of 2011 was the hottest, driest 12 months on record there.

Though only a handful of towns saw their water sources dry up last summer, it got so bad that cities, industries and farmers began to think the unthinkable: Would they run out of water?

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