Oct 24, 2022

Newspapers In Hotels: Another Disappearing Amenity

And do we really think we save money by pumping our own gas?

By Ed Goldman

While we know that newspapers are slowly disappearing from American life, when did they start disappearing from hotels? 

Maybe this is going to be a gradual withdrawal, which some people use for treating addiction. And I’m definitely hooked on newspapers.

Edgy Cartoon

All the news that won’t fit to print

Over the past few years, almost none of the hotels I’ve stayed in had newspapers in their gift shops (much less delivered to my door in the morning). Some of these hotels were multi-starred, some were simply convenient and the best you could say about some were that they were “clean.” This is the ambidextrous adjective we also like to deploy for uninteresting comedy acts and barely sensate seniors.

Logic would have you believing that the smaller inns were the first to quit bringing in newspapers. But I’ve experienced this at the Long Beach Airport Holiday Inn (mid-size and supposedly oriented to business travelers, who may just want to be aware of what’s happening in the world), Seascape Resort in Aptos, the Westin on the Sacramento River here in Sacramento, and the rock-and-roll favorite Joshua Tree, next door to the national park of the same name.

I vaguely recall that as a kid, we’d stay at a Travel Lodge on family trips. This is the motel chain with the logo of a bear in a nightshirt, which was supposed to be adorable but scared me, especially when we were staying in off-grid places and you had to walk through a little forest to find the ice machine in the middle of the night—oh, and the night managers always looked like Anthony Perkins). Anyway, even these places had newspapers. For sale, of course, in the lobby, beside the vending machines that served as room service.

I’m guessing that the price of newspaper subscriptions for the hotels rose too high. I can relate. A one-year subscription to my local paper, the Sacramento Bee, which on some days has only eight pages in its front news section, is now so costly I may need a co-signer when it’s time to re-up. I also understand why savvy biz travelers might prefer the kind of rapid news roundup they can summon up on their phones. I feel like a Stone Age relic when I confess I miss the pleasure, when away from home, of leisurely reading an out-of-town newspaper in bed while enjoying piping hot coffee I made for myself in the room’s single-cup dispenser.

It may be that the hotel industry’s era of extras has simply passed. 

The usual suspects are COVID, the economy and the supply chain—but those are more recent alibis. The longer lasting one is the lingering death of the service sector’s principal asset: service.

Gas stations, grocery stores and coffee shops all feature some form of do-it-yourself, (the ubiquitous, rakishly nicknamed DIY). We’ve become, without saving a dime for our efforts, pump jockeys, checkout cashiers and waiters, respectively.

And we get shamed for it: 

– When the gas pump doesn’t work and the employee sitting in the mini-mart office has to climb down from his stool, waddle over and help us, accompanied by a fair amount of eye rolling. 

– When we sign our credit card receipt for our coffee and the “barista” watches us intently to see what percentage of our order we’ll add to the bill as a tip—even though that barista has done nothing but pour the drink. 

– And as for supermarkets, why should we—after checking ourselves out at the register, schlepping and loading our groceries into our car—feel compelled to return our shopping carts to the store or to the storage areas (usually on the other side of the parking lot)?

The self-service gas station was only the beginning, friends. Someone should do a story about this erosion of quality in American life. Oh, I realize it’s not a new topic. I mean, it’s been in all the newspapers.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).