Golden Achievers: Tony Dokoupil

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By Maya Pottiger

This is the third installment in a series of local celebrity success stories about people who were either raised in Severna Park or Arnold, or people who moved to the area and continued to achieve lofty goals. The first story featured “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak and the second story was on Jamie Bragg, the vice president of team sports for Under Armour.

A submarine to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Astronaut training. Sleeping on a glacier in Alaska. Digging for artifacts outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Before CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil told these stories as a journalist, he was a student at Severna Park High School.

But, even before that, Dokoupil attended a fancy private school in Miami. His dad drove a Mercedes, and the family owned a boat and went on luxurious vacations.

All of that disappeared when Dokoupil moved to Severna Park as a fifth-grader.

Dokoupil’s parents were major drug dealers in Miami. After his father went to prison, the family was forced to flee when his stepfather cooperated with the feds. Dokoupil wrote about his childhood in his autobiography, “The Last Pirate: A Father, His Son, and The Golden Age of Marijuana.”

“I didn’t know about that crazy reason for why we moved and what had actually happened in Miami or where my parents were getting their money,” Dokoupil said. “I didn’t know any of that until I was much older.”

The family landed in Severna Park because Dokoupil’s stepfather was familiar with the Chesapeake Bay area from marijuana drops. His mother specifically chose Severna Park because she believed in the public school system. The family lived in the Round Bay neighborhood.

In Severna Park, Dokoupil struggled.

“It was hard because we had a lot of money when I was in Miami. When [my father] went to prison, the money disappeared,” Dokoupil said. “By the time we arrived in Maryland, my mom’s teaching salary was our primary income, and a public school teaching salary doesn’t go that far.”

Dokoupil graduated from the SPHS class of 1999. He played baseball and basketball, and Dokoupil earned a scholarship to play baseball at the George Washington University.

“At the time, I didn’t know what journalism was,” Dokoupil said. “I thought I was going to do something in athletics. I didn’t think I was going to be a major leaguer, but I thought maybe I’d be an athletic trainer, maybe I’d work as a sports agent.”

Dokoupil’s path to journalism wasn’t straightforward: He graduated first in his class from GWU’s business school, took a job at a public affairs company in San Francisco and attended a Ph.D. program at Columbia University.

While Dokoupil was in the Ph.D. program, his professors noticed that Dokoupil liked communicating and writing, so he took an unpaid internship at Newsweek, where he was later hired.

“I stayed through the great collapse of print — all the layoffs, the bails, the hand wringing, all the convulsion,” Dokoupil said. “I ended up in TV because I had done a number of stories for Newsweek that became broadcast in one form or another.”

Dokoupil got his start in television as a writer at NBC. He was a senior writer for NBC Digital in the enterprise unit, and then he became a reporter for the investigative unit off-camera. After NBC, Dokoupil became a correspondent for MSNBC. Then, in July 2016, Dokoupil moved to CBS.

“What I’ve come to realize is that the voice is the original medium; writing is secondary. Writing exists as a replacement for voice,” Dokoupil said. “The great thing about television is you write for the human voice.”

Looking back, Dokoupil understands his appreciation for the voice and for journalism was realized at a young age. As a kid, Dokoupil found himself constantly replaying recordings of famous announcer calls in baseball and becoming emotional.

“I remember really feeling emotional hearing these, not because of the player doing something amazing, but because of the announcer calling it with such emotion and such perfect pitch and the right collection of words,” Dokoupil said.

Recently, Dokoupil had a profile on Dolly Parton that aired. Though he has interviewed many people during his career, this interview stuck out to him as a memorable one.

“Sometimes you sit down with an individual and, for some reason, everything clicks. It’s like you knew them in a different life, and the conversation flows as though you’re old friends,” Dokoupil said. “Whenever that happens, it’s really magical. There are lots of interviews that I’ve loved over the years, but that’s a recent one which stands out as having been special.”

Now, Dokoupil lives in New York with his family. He is married to MSNBC anchor Katy Tur.

Though Dokoupil likes to travel in his spare time, he said he has been able to experience incredible things through journalism.

“The wonderful thing about journalism is that a lot of the stories I’ve done are things I think other people would pay to do,” Dokoupil said. “It’s been incredible, the outings and the individuals that you meet in this line of work the way I’ve been able to experience it. It’s what I do for a profession, but a lot of it I would want to be doing in my free time, too.”

READ MORE:

Golden Achievers: Jamie Bragg
Golden Achievers: Pat Sajak

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