Ask seven working photojournalists and you'll get ten different answers. This is because many will alter their workflow depending upon the specific assignment, how time sensitive the subject matter is, and how the image will be distributed (newsprint? magazine? Web? Etc.).
In general, if an assignment is very time sensitive, they'll:
- Shoot straight to JPEG. That means nailing exposure and composition in a format/aspect ratio their client employer can use when shooting. That's why they are pros.
- Maybe do some minor cropping or other basic JPEG adjustments in camera and edit the caption or other XMP/IPTC metadata. Top level sports/journalism cameras allow XMP/IPTC information, such as copyright and caption info, to be embedded into the image when shot.
- Use either Wi-Fi via internal or external Wi-Fi transmitter, the ethernet port that the top end sports/journalism bodies such as the Canon EOS 1-series, the Nikon single digit series, and the Sony α9 series have built in, or the memory card to transfer images to a web connected device and push the images to their client/employer.
If the assignment is not so time sensitive, then they may shoot Raw+JPEG or even Raw only and do more extensive editing (color correction, exposure correction, contrast curves adjustment, etc.) on a laptop or even wait until they're back at the editorial office or at home and edit on a desktop before submitting the images.
In the past there were more numerous instances where there might be assistants either on-site (such as at pro sporting events or political conventions) taking all of a photographer's images, culling them, and deciding which ones to push (send in). Again, the workflow might be one of several methods. The elite agencies could have a van out in the parking lot with ethernet cables running to multiple shooters sending their images to the photo editor in the van via ethernet ports in almost real time. Or they may have had runners transferring memory cards from the shooter to an editor in the stadium's media center. By the time Wi-Fi got really going well enough to eliminate the wired connections or card runners, the budgets of most news agencies had been cut to the bone and very few events had more than perhaps a single shooter per agency feeding an editor back at the office via a laptop on the sidelines between plays or during TV timeouts. There are still a handful of major events, such as the Super Bowl or Olympics, where an editor will be onsite to assist several photographers all shooting for the same agency but the practice is becoming increasingly rare.
Often the "best" images are not the ones that are used the most, but the "first" images aren't necessarily the ones used the most either.¹ There are a lot of variables at play here. Different news distributors have different arrangements with various photo agencies, freelancers, or even staff photographers. If news publisher A has a contract with Getty, they'll wait until Getty posts images to their distribution portal. If publisher B has a staff photographer or freelancer on day rate on the scene, they're going to use whatever that photographer gets for them. If publisher C is a member of a wire service like the AP or Reuters, they'll pick up whatever photographers shooting for other members of the same wire service push onto the wires.
This is nothing new. Neil Leifer's iconic color slide of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston wasn't published for days after their second fight back in 1965. In order to use slower color slide film, Leifer had spent several hours before the fight placing a remote flash in the rafters of the dark gym in Lewiston, Maine. Unlike todays portable strobes, it was a unit that required several seconds to recharge and be available for another burst of light. An AP photographer shooting faster, grainy B&W film standing to Leifer's left got what was the lead image in most newspapers' sports sections the next day. In addition to being a lower quality B&W image compared to Leifer's perfectly exposed Kodachrome slide, it was not timed as well as Leifer's image, nor was it taken from as good of an angle. Most of the other photographers at the fight were on the other side of the ring near the judges' table and only got shots of the knockdown from behind Ali.
When Leifer's shot was published by his employer, Sports Illustrated, it wasn't even the lead image for the article, much less the cover. It was buried deep in the story. Only over time did it begin to gain momentum until it was recognized as one of the greatest sports images of all time. It did eventually make the cover of a Sports Illustrated special issue, "The Century's Greatest Sports Photos", over three decades later.