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 nine newspapers, six websites, a quarterly arts and social magazine 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 — Sarasota Observer, Longboat Observer, East County Observer and the Pelican Press; Palm Coast Observer and Ormond Beach Observers, free weekly serving the east coast market of Palm Coast/Flagler County; Plant City Observer, serving the central market of Plant City near greater Tampa Bay; Orange 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. The company’s associated websites include YourObserver.com, PalmCoastObserver.com, OrmondBeachObserver.com, PlantCityObserver.com, OrangeObserver.com and BusinessObserverFL.com. 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 200,000 readers a week.
The family operators behind The Observer Group are the company’s 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 Chief Digital Officer, 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 4,000.
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 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 31,000 and reaches more than 62,000 readers.
In 2010, the company started the Palm Coast Observer and entered a partnership with the West Orange Times in Winter Garden, Fla. 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, Florida. The newspaper offers local news and advertising to is readers in east Hillsborough County. In 2013, the Observer formed a partnership with the Tampa Bay Times to publish the Plant City Times & Observer. With a circulation of 15,000 copies each week, the paper publishes as a free-standing paper and as a section of the Tampa Bay Times in the Plant City area.
In 2013, the company acquired ThisWeekinSarasota.com, a 6-year old pure-play entertainment site. The site features content, video, photo galleries and a calendar of what to do, where to go, who to know and what's going on this week in Sarasota for the 25- to 45-year old demographic.
In June of 2013, Observer Media Group launched Digital Observer Media, an independent digital marketing agency. Digital Observer Media is a boutique digital agency honed in on Florida businesses, specializing in branding, digital strategy, software as a service (SaaS), and online reputation management. Digital Observer Media delivers on the unique ability to guide clients through evolving technology while innovating and elevating their brands.
In February 2014, the company purchased the West Orange Times fully outright. The West Orange Times covers West Orange County that includes Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland, Windermere, Gotha, Dr. Phillips, MetroWest and the Orlando attraction area with a 40,000 weekly readership. The West Orange Times is a paid-weekly and the West Orange Times & Observer is a free, weekly.
In May of 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.
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, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Naples, Winter Park, Plant City and Orlando.
To inspire our readers with unique, local content and to help our partners prosper.
- Observer Media Group Mission Statement
From the company’s inception, the Walshes and Observer 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 have received national and statewide recognition. The Longboat Observer won second place for General Excellence in 2009 in the better newspaper contest sponsored by the Local Media Association, formerly Suburban Newspapers of America, an organization with 3,000 members in Canada and the United States. The Longboat Observer was named Florida’s Best Weekly newspaper in 2008 in the Florida Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. And the Longboat Observer was judged Florida’s Best Designed weekly in 2007 and 2008 by the Florida Press Association. The East County Observer editorial staff in 2007 and 2008 won 19 first-place awards from the Florida Press Club for outstanding reporting, photography and design.
Most recent awards worth noting:
- In 2010, The Observers won 21 first-, second- and third-place awards from the Florida Press Association. And YourObserver.com won first place for best architecture and design among weeklies with circulation of 100,000 or less from the Suburban Newspapers of America and first place in the nation from Second Street Media for one of its online contests.
- In 2011, the Longboat, East County and Sarasota Observers were named the top-three weekly newspapers in the state of Florida in the Florida Press Association's 2010 Better Weekly Newspaper Contest. The Observer Group Inc. (the Longboat Observer, Sarasota Observer, East County Observer, Gulf Coast Business Review and the Pelican Press) received 27 total awards at the Florida Press Association's annual convention July 1, 2011.
- The Observer Group swept the General Excellence category, taking first (Longboat), second (East County) and third (Sarasota) and the Overall Graphic Design category: first (Longboat), second (Sarasota) and third (East County). The company's website, YourObserver.com, also won first place in Website Development.
- In the 2011 Local Media Association Editorial Contest, the Observer Group claimed 17 awards, including Best Front Page, Best Column Writing, Best Entertainment/Lifestyle Section and, at the apex, Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers, which was awarded to Palm Coast Managing Editor Brian McMillan.
In 2012, The Observer Group changed its name to Observer Media Group.
OMG (the Longboat Observer, Sarasota Observer, East County Observer, Gulf Coast Business Review and the Pelican Press) topped its previous record, claiming 36 awards from the Florida Press Association. First place awards include: Front page makeup (Longboat), Overall Graphic Design (Longboat), General excellence (Sarasota), Overall Graphic Design (Palm Coast) and Robert J. Ellison Memorial Award for Excellence in Portfolio Photography (Palm Coast).
OMG earned six more awards in the 2012 Local Media Association Local Community Web Site Contest. First place awards include: Best Social Media Initiative for its efforts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Best Local Community Initiative for its It's Read Everywhere Photo Contest, Best Overall Local News site and Best Video Initiative for its Daily Headlines broadcast.
Officers, Senior Executives
Observer Group Inc.
Chairman — David Beliles
Editor / CEO — Matt Walsh
Publisher — Lisa Walsh
Chief Financial Officer — Laura Keisacker
Publisher — Lisa Walsh
Chief Digital Officer — Emily Walsh
Publisher / Palm Coast Observer — John Walsh
Director of Advertising (Sarasota) — Jill Raleigh
Executive Editor — Kat Hughes
Deputy Executive Editor — Jessica Luck
Director of Creative Services — Kathy Payne
Editor / Publisher — Matt Walsh
Managing Editor — Kat Hughes
Deputy Managing Editor — Mark Gordon
Associate Publisher / Advertising — Diane Schaefer
Director of Legal Advertising — Kristen Boothroyd
Director of Circulation Marketing and Sales — Anne Shumate