WINTER PARKTurnstile Media Group Inc., the Orlando-based owner of the Winter Park-Maitland Observer, announced Feb. 23 the sale of the 28-year-old community weekly newspaper to Sarasota-based Observer Media Group Inc. Also included in the sale were the Winter Park-Maitland Observer’s affiliated publications and websites, including Central Florida Senior magazine.
“We are very pleased that our publication will be presided over by such a dedicated and professional group. We wish them much success in their efforts to take our newspaper to new levels of accomplishment,” said Rance Crain, owner and chairman of Turnstile Media Group.
The Observer Media Group is a 23-year-old private company that publishes 11 other newspapers, three magazines and seven websites in Florida — in Sarasota, Plant City, Winter Garden, Windermere, Ormond Beach, Palm Coast and Jacksonville. Its owners are Matt and Lisa Walsh.
“We are thrilled to have this opportunity,” said Matt Walsh, the company’s CEO. “With our existing West Orange Times & Observer serving the Winter Garden-Ocoee area and the Windermere Observer, the Winter Park-Maitland Observer is a natural fit — not just because of its name, but because we share the same mission and focus: to provide the communities we serve with all-local content.”
Dawn Willis, publisher of the West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer, also will become publisher of the Winter Park-Maitland Observer. West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer Executive Editor Michael Eng also will serve in the same role at the Winter Park-Maitland Observer.
The Winter Park Observer began publishing in January 1989 when Gerhard J.W. Munster, a native of Vienna, Austria, distributed the first edition. In 1990, Munster added Maitland to the paper’s name and coverage area. Munster sold the paper to Winter Park entrepreneur Kyle Taylor, who sold it in 2007 to Crain’s Turnstile Media Group. Crain is the son of the founder of Chicago-based Crain Communications Inc., where he also serves as president and editorial director.
During Turnstile’s ownership of the Observer, the paper continued to expand, adding Baldwin Park, College Park and Goldenrod and always emphasizing coverage of local government, the arts, schools, business and sports.
Walsh said the Observer will continue that focus, with the goal of making the paper indispensable to the Winter Park and Maitland communities. In the past four years, Walsh said, three of his company’s Observers were named “Newspaper of the Year” five times in their respective circulation categories by the Local Media Association.
The company’s newspapers consistently rank among the most awarded weeklies in Florida by the Florida Press Association.
Walsh and his wife started their company in 1995, when they purchased the weekly Longboat Observer on Longboat Key. Since then, through startups and acquisitions, they have expanded the company to include 125 employees and a weekly readership of its newspapers and websites of more than 375,000. OMG’s newspapers include: Sarasota Observer, Siesta Key Observer, Longboat Observer, East County Observer, Business Observer, all based in Sarasota; Plant City Times & Observer; West Orange Times & Observer, Windermere Observer, based in Winter Garden; Ormond Beach Observer; Palm Coast Observer; and Financial News & Daily Record, Jacksonville.