Formed in 1995 with the acquisition of the Longboat Observer, Observer Media Group Inc. has grown into a family-owned and operated multimedia company with 10 newspapers, six websites, two quarterly lifestyle magazines and more than 100 employees serving multiple communities around Florida.
The company’s portfolio of newspapers includes four free community weeklies serving the Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla., market — Longboat Observer, East County Observer, Sarasota Observer and Siesta Key Observer; two free weeklies serving the east coast markets of Palm Coast/Flagler County and Ormond Beach, near Daytona Beach, Palm Coast Observer and Ormond Beach Observer; Plant City Times & Observer, serving the Plant City between Tampa and Lakeland; and the West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer, serving the communities of Winter Garden, Windermere and Ocoee in west-central Orange County; and the Business Observer, a paid-circulation weekly with subscribers extending from Tampa to Naples.
Season magazine is the quarterly arts and social guide, and LWR Life is a quarterly, glossy magazine distributed in Lakewood Ranch in partnership with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
Altogether, the company’s newspapers, magazines and websites reach more than 395,000 readers a week.
The Observer Media Group is owned by its founders and principals, Matt and Lisa Walsh and their daughter, Emily Walsh; and Lisa Walsh’s parents, David and Ruth Beliles. With Emily Walsh serving as publisher of the Sarasota-based free weeklies and YourObserver.com, she marks the fourth generation of the family in the newspaper business.
David and Ruth Beliles began their newspaper careers in the 1950s in Illinois. Beliles eventually became a vice president of Topeka, Kan.-based Stauffer Communications, overseeing a dozen Midwest dailies and serving as publisher of the Grand Island, Neb., Independent. Beliles’ father, Neil Beliles, worked as a newspaper circulation executive in the 1940s and 1950s.
Matt and Lisa Walsh began their newspaper careers at the Topeka Capital-Journal after graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. After stints at the Miami Herald, Florida Trend magazine and Forbes magazine, Walsh, his wife, her parents and a small group of investors teamed up to purchase the Longboat Observer from its founders, Ralph and Claire Hunter. The Hunters started the paper in 1978.
From the start of the Longboat Observer through today, the Walshes have focused on creating, producing and delivering compelling and relevant hyper-local news and information to the readers of its community newspapers and websites.
To that end, the Longboat Observer serves primarily the barrier island of Longboat Key (near Sarasota, Fla.), as well as surrounding barrier islands. It has an average weekly circulation of 15,000 and more than 30,000 weekly readers. It reaches more than 95% of the 10,000 residences on Longboat Key and specializes in news and events affecting Longboat Key, as well as providing comprehensive coverage of the region’s arts and social scenes.
In 1997, the company started the Business Observer, a weekly that focuses on companies, entrepreneurs and business and economic trends on the west coast of Florida; it has paid circulation of 7,000.
In 1998, the company launched the East County Observer to serve the fast-growing suburban areas of east Manatee and Sarasota counties. The East County Observer has weekly distribution of 23,000 and more than 46,000 readers. It specializes in community news, events, business, real estate and sports affecting primarily East Manatee County.
In 2000, The Observer Media Group introduced "Season," a quarterly guide to the Sarasota region’s arts, entertainment and society. Season provides the area’s most comprehensive listing of each quarter’s arts, charitable and social events. It has a distribution of 50,000.
In 2001, the company acquired the Tampa Bay Review, a 50-year-old legal weekly. Two years later, the Tampa Bay Review and Business Observer merged and later expanded into Southwest Florida by opening offices in Fort Myers and Naples.
In 2004, the company started the Sarasota Observer. It serves downtown Sarasota and the most affluent communities along the bayfront. It has a weekly circulation of 19,000 and reaches more than 38,000 readers.
In 2010, the company started the Palm Coast Observer. The Palm Coast Observer has a circulation of 25,000, reaching an audience of more than 50,000, and the highest penetration of any medium in Flagler County.
In 2011, the company acquired the Pelican Press, a 40-year-old weekly community newspaper that primarily covered Siesta Key, one of the barrier islands of Sarasota County. The company changed the name to the Siesta Key Observer in 2015.
In 2012, Observer Media Group started the Plant City Observer in Plant City. A year later, the Observer entered into a 50-50 partnership with the Tampa Bay Times to publish the Plant City Times & Observer. It has a weekly circulation of 15,000.
In February 2014, the company purchased the West Orange Times, a 103-year-old paper that serves West Orange County near Orlando and focuses on Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland, Windermere, Gotha, Dr. Phillips, MetroWest and the Orlando attraction area. Shortly after, the company introduced the West Orange Times & Observer. The West Orange Times is a paid weekly, with 3,000 circulation; and the West Orange Times & Observer is a free weekly with 12,000 distribution.
In May 2014, Observer Media Group entered into a partnership with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch to publish LWR Life, a quarterly, glossy, lifestyle magazine distributed to 22,000 people in Lakewood Ranch and the surrounding East County area
In October 2015, the company began publishing the Windermere Observer, a free weekly with 15,000 distribution in the affluent West Orange County market. And at the same time, it relaunched its website from WOTimes.com to the OrangeObserver.com.
The Observer Media Group Inc. is headquartered at 1970 Main St., Sarasota, Fla., 34236; 941-366-3468. It has offices in Tampa, Clearwater, Bradenton, Longboat Key, Lakeland, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Naples, New Port Richey, Winter Garden, Plant City, Port Charlotte, Palm Coast and Ormond Beach.
From the company’s inception, the Walshes and Observer Media Group staffers have committed their efforts to editorial excellence, under the theory that compelling and relevant content will draw loyal readers for the company’s advertising customers.
To this end, the company’s newspapers and websites have received national and statewide recognition.
Starting in 2010, the Local Media Association, a newspaper organization of 2,000 newspapers in North America, awarded YourObserver.com first place for best architecture and design among weeklies. In 2011, LMA awarded YourObserver.com, first place in Website Development. In 2012, LMA awarded YourObserver.com first place for Best Social Media Initiative.
Meanwhile, in its most recent awards, the Florida Press Association recognized the YourObserver.com and BusinessObserverFL.com for website excellence and OrangeObserver.com for multimedia storytelling.
The Local Media Association and Florida Press Association also have repeatedly recognized the company’s newspaper excellence.
In two consecutive years, 2012 and 2013, LMA named the Longboat Observer and Saraosta Observer “Newspapers of the Year” in their respective circulation categories.
In 2015, LMA again named the Longboat Observer “Newspaper of the Year” for the third time and the Palm Coast Observer “Newspaper of the Year” in its respective circulation category.
And in 2015, Observer Media Group newspapers — Palm Coast, Longboat and the Business Observer — swept first place for General Excellence in the Florida Press Association’s Better Weekly Newspaper Contest. The Sarasota Observer won the top Sweepstakes Award for winning the most awards overall.
In September 2016, Observer Media Group newspapers received 81 editorial awards, more than any company, in the Florida Press Association’s Better Weekly Newspaper Contest.
Observer Media Group, Inc.
Officers, Senior Executives
Chairman - David Beliles
Editor / CEO - Matt Walsh
Vice President - Lisa Walsh
Publisher - Emily Walsh
Chief Financial Officer - Laura Keisacker
(Sarasota, Longboat, Siesta Key, East County Observers, YourObserver.com)
Publisher - Emily Walsh
Executive Editor - Kat Hughes
Director of Advertising - Jill Raleigh
East Coast Region
Publisher / Palm Coast Observer - John Walsh
Executive Editor - Brian McMillan
Advertising Manager - Jaclyn Centofanti
Central Florida Region
(West Orange Times & Observer, Windermere Observer; OrangeObserver.com)
Publisher - Dawn Willis
Executive Editor - Michael Eng
(Plant City Times & Observer; PlantCityObserver.com)
Publisher - Karen Berry
Managing Editor - Amber Jurgensen
(Business Observer; BusinessObserverFL.com)
Editor / Publisher - Matt Walsh
Executive Editor - Kat Hughes
Director of Legal Advertising - Kristen Boothroyd
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