Skin colour does not define her
KAREN KARIMI KNAUST has been attacked constantly because of her complexion, but as her cousin MIRIAM KAUDERER reveals, Karen is unapologetic about who she is and what she has achieved in life so far
Skin colour is one of humankind’s most striking and stunningly variable traits, so when a light skinned female television journalist rises to prominence or occupies a senior position in any newsroom, it is often assumed her career has been helped by her skin tone because in the harsh world of TV, being dark skinned does not always translate well on camera.
While skill, talent, brains and drive are the main traits driving the success of women in the industry, it still really matters how they look like on TV.
Their male colleagues can throw on a suit, get a few blots of make-up on their forehead and be considered ‘camera-ready’, but women who regularly appear on our screens have to spend a significant amount of time, energy and money on their appearance in order to do the same work.
Over time, female TV news reporters and anchors have expressed concern over the emphasis placed on their physical appearance and how this has affected their broadcasting careers.
They have cited age, weight and even hair colour as issues that often get more attention than their journalistic integrity.
One such journalist is Karen Karimi Knaust who has been attacked constantly because of her complexion, but as her cousin Miriam Kauderer reveals, Karen is unapologetic about who she is.
“Karen’s entry into the media was purely coincidental. While studying at Nyali Primary School and later at Aga Khan Academy for her Ordinary Level (O- Level), Karen wanted to become a veterinary doctor.
Her family wanted her to study law, but she ended up in the corporate world after completing a degree in Public Relations and Human Resources Management at the Kenya Methodist University, Mombasa campus,” says Kauderer.
She says Karen’s late father was from Aken town in East Germany and she remembers him for his hard talk on hard work. Karen picked up the importance of wildlife conservation from him.
Right after completing her Advanced level (A- Level) studies at Kabojja International School in Uganda in 2007, Karen started championing for the rights of animals and has not stopped since.
In 2013, Kauderer recalls Karen’s excitement when she received a phone call from Mediamax Network Limited human resources department, a parent company to K24 TV station asking her to go in for an interview and she was recommended for the position of TV news reporter and anchor.
She chuckles at how her cousin first went on air and almost panicked. “She ended up fumbling with her words on live TV. But realising her frailty, she started practicing her anchoring skills daily in front of a mirror at home and in the station’s studio when it was unoccupied,” she laughs.
The 32-year-old quickly came to understand anchoring as an uphill task which comes with a lot of expectations from viewers and in due course, learned how to deal with hate on social media by simply ignoring it.
Karen was mentored by former K24 senior news anchor Belinda Obura and K24’s Group Head of TV and Digital Peter Opondo. In 2014, she became the first reporter from a local station to report about the last surviving male northern white rhinoceros at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Nanyuki, Laikipia county.
In 2016, Karen scored another first when she interviewed Mireia Lalaguna Royo a Spanish actress, model and beauty queen who was crowned the first Miss World from Spain in 2015 in Sanya, China. Mireia was in the country to raise awareness for children born with cleft lips through ‘Smile Train’, the world’s largest cleft charity.
She has partnered with The Brooke Kenya, an international animal welfare charity dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules.
The seasoned anchor has also partnered with World Animal Protection Africa, another international charity organisation devoted to protecting farm animals from suffering unnecessarily.
Locally, Karen has partnered with The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). “My cousin keeps two cats and two dogs. She is a vegetarian and believes how we treat animals reflects who we are as a society. Once in a while, she emcees at wildlife events,” Kauderer says.
Karen has a heart for humanity and occasionally reaches out to individuals and families affected both physically and emotionally from the effects of medical malpractice. She believes preventable medical errors are on the rise and must be addressed by those in authority.
In 2004, Karen lost her father, a former aeronautical engineer, to prostate cancer. He had been misdiagnosed for a long time.
In 2015, she lost her sister Ruth Wangeci Knaust after a drunk driver veered off his lane along Valley Road and rammed head-on into Ruth’s car. The vocal activist and human rights campaigner best known for the ‘My Dress, My Choice Campaign’ was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), but succumbed to injuries.
Kauderer says her cousin, who is the last born in a family of five, aspires to be like Cable News Network (CNN) news anchor and correspondent Hala Basha-Gorani.
She is also a travel writer for the People Daily newspaper and has travelled to many places in the country and visited Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Egypt, Spain France, Denmark and Sweden.
Karen believes modern politics is gripping, but media houses should not end up giving political affairs an outsized role in life.
She would like to see other reporters covering health issues or even environment matters getting equal opportunities as their counterparts in the political sphere.
Karen would like to join the hospitality industry in future.