The night of last year’s Walkleys, Crikey’s journos arrived armed with cocaine swabs we had hoped to use to blow journalism’s dirty drug habits wide open. We didn’t find anything, so we didn’t do much with the exercise. But perhaps we were looking in the wrong place.

In the prologue to his campaign diary, What a Time to be Alive, out on Monday, BuzzFeed political editor Mark Di Stefano says that he was, in fact, offered cocaine that night. In the disabled toilets, shortly after being told all about the benefits of union membership. “It was a union doling out free coke to journalists,” he writes.

Di Stefano’s encounter came at his first Walkleys — he was there at Crown Casino to support colleague Allan Clarke, who was a nominee.

“I hadn’t expected … just how much the room was split into cliques. On one side was the ABC-Fairfax community, who subsequently dominated the awards. They were nerds, snobs and often lacked in self-awareness. Apparently The Guardian hadn’t purchased a table, according to the gossip, because some of their more high-profile journalists weren’t nominated …

“On the other side of the room were the commercial networks (Channel 7, Channel 9, Channel Ten and News Corp). Oh, they were so cool. They were attractive. They sneered at whole categories where only the ABC was nominated. They politely clapped, took duck-pouted selfies for Instagram and posed for Snapchats where they spewed rainbows onto the table.”

The ABC would go on to win the Gold Walkley for Four Corners’ expose into the greyhound racing industry. Di Stefano recalls hearing  a “drunk high-profile reporter from The Australian” complaining that this shouldn’t be possible given the report didn’t even win the sports category (funny story, that — the judges in the sports category did want it to win, but they were overruled higher up the chain).

“I should say there are good people in this community,” Di Stefano writes. “But you mix a few beers with some cheap chardonnay and what results is a nightmare adult version of Mean Girls. There was a ‘you can’t sit with us’ attitude that rippled out through the entire night.”

At this point, Di Stefano’s observations get very interesting. He ran into Crikey‘s Josh Taylor, who had emerged from the toilets looking “crestfallen”. Taylor’s quoted saying:

“Oh, I was sent in there with these drug testing slips. My editor made me try to find cocaine on the counters.”

(For the record, Taylor says his recollection of events is somewhat, but not substantially, different.)

Afterwards, at the after party, Di Stefano danced with Sandra Sully. Then he went to the bar, and a “young bloke” with “one of the unions in attendance”, whom Di Stefano dubs “Peter”, sidled up to him.

“Peter” asked Di Stefano whether BuzzFeed was unionised. It wasn’t, though Di Stefano, describing himself as the child of “unionist parents”, was somewhat sympathetic to the argument. So “Peter” started laying it on.

“Unions look after you if you join us,” “Peter” is quoted as saying. Di Stefano asked what that was meant to mean. “Well, there are benefits,” “Peter” continued. Someone on the other side of the bar then whispered to Di Stefano that “Crikey don’t know shit”, and led him to the disabled toilets. There, “a small bag of white powder materialised”. Di Stefano asked if it came with a union stamp. “Mate, these are the benefits of joining the union,” he was allegedly told. It is not clear from the book whether or not Di Stefano took up the offer.

Di Stefano continues:

“The next day I wanted to text Josh from Crikey and say, ‘Mate, I found it!’ It just happened that it wasn’t the Cool Kids from the commercial networks. It wasn’t Sandra Sully. The ABC-Fairfax nexus weren’t doing it. It was a union doling out free coke to journalists.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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