OPINION: Dear South Africa, I'm sorry.
"Sorry" may still be the hardest word, especially for a journalist, but who the apology is aimed at and what sins are being atoned is what really matters. If we're going to apologize, this is what it should look like:
Dear South Africa, I'm sorry.
I'm sorry that there are not more of us: reporters who don't apologize for doing our job.
I'm sorry that journalists are being retrenched as newspapers cut down circulation or shut down titles.
I'm sorry that newsrooms aren't comprised of hundreds of hacks fighting each other for a chance to get onto the front page or to lead a bulletin with a big exclusive story.
I'm sorry that there are not nearly enough career journalists who make it their life's work to annoy politicians and presidents.
I'm sorry that we don't have bureaus in each and every single province, with strong teams to expose local corruption or cover local events. God knows the Eastern Cape alone would keep a team of 100 reporters busy 24/7. Never mind Limpopo.
I'm sorry we don't always have the luxury of having beat reporters. Specialists in fields like education, health, science (I think there is one dedicated science reporter in this country?) or crime. Specialists who can better explain the world around us and empower us.
I'm sorry that scandals flow so quickly that to see a particular story through to the end is not always possible.
I'm sorry that we don't spend weeks visiting a hospital to expose the horrors that unfold there. Or schools, where children are perched on dustpans instead of chairs, or where their new iPads are stolen at the speed of light. Far too often these are hit-and-runs.
I'm sorry that we can't be there every time a protester is beaten to death by the police, or a family is tortured during a house robbery, or a man is denied access to an asthma pump in the holding cells, or a pregnant mother is turned away from a hospital, or a camp-full of refugees is cleared by force, or when any injustice takes place…
I'm sorry that we have only scratched the surface of the collusion and corruption in the private sector.
I'm sorry for Oscar Pistorius.
I'm sorry that cute animals are now considered news.
I'm sorry about what is happening to some media ownership and how its impacting content. Sometimes, what you are being offered is nothing short of intellectual fraud.
I'm sorry that we are still finding a model that can sustain solid investigative reporting in the digital age. We'll get it right, just give us time.
I'm sorry that issues like mob justice, xenophobia or taxi violence are not explored more deeply and consistently. Or that labour issues explode only when there's a strike or a sex scandal.
I'm sorry that so few organisations are able to have a dedicated reporter sit through a full trial or a landmark hearing like the Marikana inquiry.
I'm sorry for not having the ability to rip open and expose the endless corruption at municipalities as much as we would like.
I'm sorry for this weird perception that all of us in the media are conspiring to bring down the ANC. That's just a load of crap. I've worked in five different newsrooms and have never had a story censored. Nor have I ever been forced to write or voice a politically loaded report.
I'm sorry that we make mistakes. At times, rather embarrassing ones. But since we are not robots, these things do happen. What's important is how we deal with them. And for every mistake there are a hundred good pieces that go out.
I'm sorry that we have not been more critical of Jacob Zuma and his government. While his scandals have kept us busy - from Nkandla to MaNtuli - there are many other areas we should be paying more attention to (foreign and economic policy, his appointments, the damage he is doing to crucial institutions, etc).
I'm sorry we have not used the laws and courts more to fight for access to information.
I'm sorry that those of us who care deeply do not write more analysis or books about issues that really matter. The onus is on us to make complicated matters accessible. We are the ones who must unpack, explain and sound the alarm.
I'm sorry for this other perception that we have to tell happy stories in order for nation building to occur. I'm not sure where that comes from, but it's nonsense.
I'm sorry that our internal disagreements are sometimes aired in public. You deserve better.
I'm sorry for all these things, and more. But, as journalism professor, Anton Harber, pointed out recently, the media's greatest failing is not that it has been too critical of Zuma and his administration but that it has not been critical enough.
For that, I am truly sorry. We will try do better.
Alex Eliseev is a senior reporter at Eyewitness News. You can follow him on Twitter @alexeliseev