Silicon Beach: 5 People Making L.A. a New Tech Industry Capital
Kevin Scanlon Adam Lisagor
Los Angeles may be 350 miles south of Silicon Valley, but it's making strides to close the distance between the two in terms of sheer brain power and inventiveness (with a little bit of entertainment thrown in for good measure). Here are five people from our People issue helping to make that happen.
5. Caroline Roman and Lauren Brokaw: Gossip Girls
Before she ended up milking cows at a boarding school in Vermont, Caroline Roman cycled through the doors of numerous prestigious schools in Los Angeles: Buckley, John Thomas Dye, Harvard-Westlake, Beverly High. None of it prepared her well for college. She went to Boston University, her safety school, and between trips to Europe was an indifferent student.
But her private-school upbringing gave her an elaborate network of friends. And that led to her current calling.
Roman, 35, is an online chronicler of the social life of L.A.'s Westside. Her website, the Daily Truffle, covers fashion, parties and politics from a native's perspective. Having grown up with the children of moguls and celebrities, Roman reports on their milieu with an insider's grasp.
"L.A. is notoriously a tough town to crack," she says. "We're hitting hard targets."
Roman launched the site in February 2009, intending it for her friends from school. She brought in a co-editor, Lauren Brokaw (Beverly Hills High School '03), to write fashion reports, and they quickly built a reputation as keen observers of L.A. social hierarchies.
Roman recently garnered exclusive access to fund-raisers for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney -- closed to the press. At Romney's event, she noticed that dots on name tags got attendees into the "in room." At the Obama fund-raiser, pink wristbands signified VIP status.
The site has a fondness for velvet ropes, routinely covering invitation-only parties and fashion events and chronicling unauthorized VIP tours at Disneyland. (There's a secret, members-only restaurant called Club 33. Who knew?) They also tap a network of high school student correspondents to lift the veil on L.A.'s private schools. Last year, the site dished about each school's prom. One scoop: Harvard-Westlake forced students to sign a pledge not to buy tickets to after-parties, after students drank too much at one following a semi-formal and were taken to the hospital.
They love to detail events where products are foisted on elite "influencers." A current favorite is Mulberry, a British handbag maker that attracts A-list stars to its hotel parties. (Sample: "I think Mulberry's creative director, Emma Hill, is a major genius/god.")
For obvious reasons, they're sensitive to charges of elitism. "When you talk about rich people and the things they can buy, it can get into an area where people don't want to hear about it, and I get it," Roman says. But, she says, she hopes to offer a bit of demystification, like breaking down the "true costs" of being a Beverly Hills housewife.
It's a tricky balance, and Roman and Brokaw realize they often act like publicists rather than journalists.
"All these people wouldn't want press anywhere near them, judging them," Roman says of the site, which describes itself with the tagline, "The press you invite when you don't want press."
"We never really judge. We're not going to go into an Obama event and talk shit about him."
At its best, their site allows outsiders to glimpse another world while giving insiders a sense of community.
"There's a conglomerate of schools where everyone went to the same house parties and everyone dated the same people," Roman says. "Wherever I go, there they all are." --Gene Maddaus