Denise Watson, a longtime features writer for The Virginian-Pilot, has been named Outstanding Journalist of the Year by the Virginia Press Association.  Joey LoMonaco, a promising journalist from The Free Lance-Star, was named Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year.

Judges said both exemplify the best of their profession through excellent skills and a commitment to their respective crafts.

Watson and LoMonaco were recognized during the 2019 News and Advertising Best of the Best awards presentation held virtually on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020.


Denise Watson, of The Virginian-Pilot, was named Outstanding Journalist of the Year during the 2019 VPA News & Advertising Best of the Best Awards Show on Sept. 17, 2020.

2019 Outstanding Journalist of the Year: Denise Watson, The Virginian-Pilot

In nominating Watson for Outstanding Journalist of the Year, her editor-in-chief noted: “Denise has perfected a craft of helping readers understand why history matters today, why your neighbor’s pain is  your pain, why one person’s discovery is a find for all.

“Her stories take us beneath the surface, beyond the obvious and into the core of a person, straight into the heart of the matter. She does so with a combination of context and background, keen observation and descriptiveness.”

A Norfolk native, Watson been a features writer at The Virginian-Pilot for 27 years. Commenting on her portfolio of work, judges said her stories “are a pure pleasure to read.”

Readers of The Virginian-Pilot regularly comment on stories that Watson writes, including this remark that was shared in her nomination package: “Well researched, informative, and uplifiting stories like yours are the reason I will always take the daily newspaper.”

Articles in Watson’s portfolio dealt with the 400th anniversary of slavery at Jamestown, a shy woman who endures cancer treatments by dressing in outlandish costumes and an African-American woman’s quest to understand her Japanese ancestry.

“Watson conveys a mastery of her material and of her craft. She paints pictures with inviting words and dialogue, putting the reader in the scene and carrying them along,” Judges said of her work.

Many of Watson’s stories explore themes of race and history, which are handled with confident sensitivity, judges remarked.

Closing their comments, judges said: “Denise’s work is deeply reported and written with care and style, all qualities that warrant her for selection as Virginia’s Outstanding Journalist of 2019.”


Joey LoMonaco, of the The Free Lance-Star, was named Outstanding Young Journalist during the 2019 VPA News & Advertising Best in Show virtual presentation on Sept. 17, 2020.

2019 Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year:  Joey LoMonaco – The Free Lance-Star

In nominating LoMonaco for Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year, his editor said “Joey has a knack for finding and telling stories that appeal to all readers, regardless of their interest in the sport itself … Joey’s storytelling skill shines.”

LoMonaco has been a sports reporter at The Free Lance-Star since 2016, and has worked at several other news outlets since graduating from the University of Mary Washington with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2013.

Articles in LoMonaco’s portfolio covered brothers who were born in a refugee camp and who became soccer standouts at their high school, a swimmer who refused to let being born with essentially one leg stop him from excelling in the pool, and twins who twice overcame childhood leukemia and rose to become championship-level golfers.

“Joey LoMonaco approaches his sports beat with a discerning eye. And once he identifies a compelling story, he tells it via sparkling prose. He sprinkles his pieces with vivid details—the ‘crumbly clay’ of an old baseball infield, the ‘tonal tapestry’ of Burundi music—and lets the voices of his subjects move the narrative along with well-chosen quotes,” judges wrote.

Of the portfolio, judges noted that “LoMonaco’s writing style lifts each story beyond a mere sports feature to a life lesson on perseverance – or a peek into the challenges of gender equality or urban crime. He recognizes sports journalism’s highest potential by finding the intersection of athletics and society.”


*The Hoosier State Press Association judged the entries. For more information about the contest results, see the awards show presentation at

**To view other contest results released early this summer, visit the VPA’s contest gallery at