Students of the Graham dynasty at The Washington Post have observed over the years the presence of an internal "Mafia" at the newspaper. It is less colorfully but more properly described as the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times Alumni Association. Its members over the past quarter century commanded for significant periods of time the newspaper's foreign, national and metropolitan staffs. They supplied editors for the Outlook section, the Magazine and the National Weekly. They became editorial writers, columnists, ombudsmen, leading correspondents and investigators.

The political correspondent and Midwestern bureau chief, Bill Peterson -- a "most parfit" man who died this month of cancer -- was a card-carrying member of that fraternity. He and his brethren brought to the institution literary grace and attitudes of mind that, in significant ways, helped shape its character and tone from the '60s to the present day.

Many of those Kentuckians are now Post alumni. They include Philip Foisie, who played a major role in the creation of The Post's foreign service and is now the ombudsman for the Defense Department's Stars and Stripes newspapers. William Greider, a former editor of Outlook and assistant managing editor for national affairs, is writing books and doing a column for Rolling Stone. Stephen Isaacs, metropolitan editor and editor of the Magazine in the 1960s, has moved to academic pastures as an associate dean at Columbia University. Ward Sinclair, chronicler of rural America, has begun practicing what he preached as a commercial grower of vegetables and fruits. David Kindred, essayist and sports columnist, sought a larger playing field.

The pattern of recruitment that brought them to Washington -- the "old boy network" -- resembled in its operation the classic rhythms and processes of immigration in the United States. A pathfinder arrives, finds the soil congenial, establishes a foothold and sends for his friends and relatives. Today the process is known simply as "networking," but it continues to be an important factor in who gets hired. A new "Mafia" now flourishing at The Post is made up of recent emigres from Florida newspapers, the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times in particular.

These hiring practices have been common in the newspaper game. For years, a DePauw University "Mafia," led by K. C. Hogate and Barney Kilgore, presided over the fortunes of The Wall Street Journal and built it into an important national newspaper. This powerful Midwestern influence was later reinforced by an influx of recruits from Kansas and Missouri. Its new farm club is a small outfit based in New York, the American Lawyer publications; four former executive editors of the Lawyer are among those who jumped ship. But the DePauw connection survives. Jim Stewart, the Page 1 editor, cheered for the Black and Gold.

The New York Times epitomizes to many people the cosmopolitan, monied Eastern establishment. But for much of this century recruits from the Confederate South gave the newspaper, as Gay Talese puts it, "a sense of the larger America," including its rural precincts. The roster included a procession of managing editors and Washington bureau chiefs, departmental editors, distinguished correspondents and columnists. The southern influence persists, not only in the prominent presence of Associate Editor Tom Wicker and Washington bureau chief Howell Raines, but in the general editing and reporting ranks of the paper. The current newsroom recruiter, Carolyn Lee, is a Courier-Journal alumna who has begun assembling at The Times a mini Louisville "Mafia."

For years American newspaper histories celebrated the lives of the great men who sat at the table as owners and publishers. In more recent decades, however, editors and writers (and television producers) -- many of them unheralded -- played critical and often dominant roles in the development and style of the journalism we practice today. The editorial pages may still speak for owners. But news departments increasingly are not only independent of those voices but often are in conflict with them as is so evident at The Wall Street Journal and, not infrequently, here at The Post as well.

The "old boy networks" were crucial in this evolution. They are suspect these days as undemocratic. But in one guise or another they survive and leave their imprint on the news of the day.