Formed in 1995 with the acquisition of the Longboat Observer, the family-owned and operated Observer Media Group Inc. has grown into a multimedia company with eight newspapers, five websites, four quarterly lifestyle magazines and more than 100 employees serving multiple communities around Florida.
The company’s portfolio of newspapers includes three free community weeklies serving the Sarasota-Bradenton market: Longboat Observer, East County Observer and Sarasota/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; the West Orange Times & Observer and Southwest Orange Observer serving Winter Garden, Windermere, Ocoee and Horizon West in Orange County; the Business Observer, a paid-circulation weekly with subscribers extending from Tampa to Naples; and the Jacksonville Daily Record, a paid-circulation weekly.
Season magazine is the quarterly arts and social guide; LWR Life is a quarterly, coated-stock magazine distributed in Lakewood Ranch in partnership with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch;Ranch; Key Life is published three times a year and distributed to Longboat, Lido, St. Armands, Bird, Siesta, and Casey Key residents and Baldwin Park Living Magazine is a monthly serving the affluent Baldwin Park community near downtown Orlando.
Altogether, the company’s newspapers, magazines and websites reach more than 412,400 readers a week.
The Observer Media Group is owned by its founders and principals, Matt and Lisa Walsh, and their daughter, Emily Walsh. With Emily Walsh serving as president and publisher of the Sarasota and West Orange-based free weeklies and websites, she represents the fourth generation of the family in the newspaper business.
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 purchased the Longboat Observer from its founders, Ralph and Claire Hunter in March 1995. The Hunters started the paper in 1978.
From the start of the Longboat Observer through today, the Walshes have focused on publishing compelling, relevant and attractively presented hyper-local news and information in the communities they serve.
Two years after acquiring the Longboat Observer, the company started the Gulf Coast Business Review, now called 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 5,000.
In 1998, the company launched the East County Observer to serve the fast-growing suburban areas of east Manatee and Sarasota counties.
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 60,000.
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.
In 2010, the company started the Palm Coast Observer. The Palm Coast Observer has a circulation of 12,000 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 partnership with the Tampa Bay Times to publish the Plant City Times & Observer. The company sold its interest in Plant City in 2018.
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 and the Southwest Orange Observer. The West Orange Times is a paid weekly, with 3,000 circulation; and the West Orange Times & Observer and Southwest Observer are free weeklies with 16,284 distribution.
In May 2014, Observer Media Group entered into a partnership with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. to publish LWR Life, a quarterly, coated-stock, lifestyle magazine distributed to 20,000 people in Lakewood Ranch and the surrounding East County area.
In January 2017, the company acquired the Financial News & Daily Record in Jacksonville. Observer Media Group acquired the paper from Jim Bailey. Bailey was the third member of his family to operate the 104-year-old business and legal daily. In 2018, the company launched the Jacksonville Record & Observer, a free weekly companion to the Jacksonville Daily Record. Since redesigning the JaxDailyRecord website, the company's online readership has grown from 13,000 unique readers a week to 45,000 a week.
The Observer Media Group Inc. is headquartered at 1970 Main St., Sarasota, Florida, 34236; 941-366-3468. It has offices in Tampa, Clearwater, Lakewood Ranch, Lakeland, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Naples, New Port Richey, Winter Garden, Port Charlotte, Palm Coast, and Jacksonville.
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.
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 Sarasota 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.
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.
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; and in 2017, the company received 99 awards in the Florida Press Association’s Better Weekly Newspaper Contest.
Editor / CEO - Matt Walsh
Vice President - Lisa Walsh
President and Publisher - Emily Walsh
Chief Financial Officer - Laura Strickland
(Sarasota/Siesta Key, Longboat, East County Observers, YourObserver.com)
Publisher - Emily Walsh
Executive Editor and COO - Kat Wingert
Director of Advertising - Jill Raleigh
Director of Marketing - Robin Lankton
(Business Observer; BusinessObserverFL.com)
Editor / Publisher - Matt Walsh
Executive Editor and COO - Kat Wingert
Director of Legal Advertising - Kristen Boothroyd
Palm Coast and Ormond Beach Observers; observerlocalnews.com
Publisher - John Walsh
Managing Editor - Jonathan Simmons
Director of Engagement - Kaitlyn Stier
(West Orange Times & Observer, West Orange Observer; OrangeObserver.com)
Publisher & Executive Editor - Michael Eng
Multi Media Sales Manager - Cyndi Gustafson
(Jacksonville Daily Record, JaxDailyRecord.com)
Publisher - Angela Campbell
Editor - Karen Mathis
Legal Advertising Manager - Rhonda Fisher