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 12 newspapers, seven websites, three quarterly lifestyle magazines and more than 125 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; three free weeklies serving the east coast markets of Palm Coast/Flagler County, Ormond Beach and Port Orange, near Daytona Beach — Palm Coast Observer, Ormond Beach Observer and Port Orange Observer; and the West Orange Times & Observer, and West Orange Observer serving the communities of 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 five-day-a-week, paid-circulation daily serving Greater Jacksonville.
Season magazine is the quarterly arts and social guide, and LWR Life is a quarterly, coated-stock magazine distributed in Lakewood Ranch in partnership with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
Altogether, the company’s newspapers, magazines and websites reach more than 456,000 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 their community newspapers and websites.
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 5,700.
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 20,000 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.
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 Inc. to publish LWR Life, a quarterly, coated-stock, lifestyle magazine distributed to 22,000 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. Also included in the acquisition was Realty-Builder, a monthly newspaper serving the residential real estate and home building markets in Greater Jacksonville.
In February 2017, Observer Media Group acquired the 30-year-old Winter Park-Maitland Observer.
The Observer Media Group Inc. is headquartered at 1970 Main St., Sarasota, Fla., 34236; 941-366-3468. It has offices in Tampa, Clearwater, Lakewood Ranch, Longboat Key, Lakeland, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Naples, New Port Richey, Winter Garden, Port Charlotte, Palm Coast, Ormond Beach 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 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.
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.
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
(Business Observer; BusinessObserverFL.com)
Editor / Publisher - Matt Walsh
Executive Editor - Kat Hughes
Director of Legal Advertising - Kristen Boothroyd
East Coast Region
Publisher / Palm Coast Observer - John Walsh
Executive Editor - Brian McMillan
Advertising Manager - Jaclyn Centofanti
Central Florida Region
(West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer; OrangeObserver.com)
Editor & Publisher - Michael Eng
(Jacksonville Daily Record, Jacksonville Record & Observer; JaxDailyRecord.com)
Publisher - Matt Walsh
Editor - Karen Mathis
Business Manager - Angie Campbell
Legal Advertising Manager - Janet Mohr
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