The following email just went out to New York Times newsroom staffers. These are the first buyout offers the paper's put out since the real depths of the recession in 2009. "Voluntary," yes. But not a good sign.

Date: Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 11:24 AM
Subject: A Note From Jill, Dean and John on Buyouts
To: !NYHQ-newsroom

To the Staff:

We are announcing today a limited buyout opportunity to newsroom volunteers, both excluded staffers as well as those members of the Guild-Times bargaining unit covered by the existing print contract.

By limited, that means we are looking at fewer than 20 buyouts across the newsroom, among volunteers who see the offer as being to their financial advantage at this time. The offering to the newsroom is, in any event, wholly voluntary. No matter how many people do or do not raise their hands, no one in the newsroom – either Guild or excluded – will be laid off as a result of this program.

For excluded staff members, the buyout formula effectively works out to two weeks of pay per year of service, with a maximum of one year in salary. The existing formula for Guild members in general provides for three weeks of severance per year, capping at a maximum of two years worth of salary.

The Guild buyout formula is among the issues on the table in the current contractual negotiations between the company and the Guild, and the company has proposed that in the future, the Guild terms mirror those now available to excluded employees. But until the company and the union agree on a new contract and the membership ratifies it – hopefully in the coming months – the current buyout terms remain in effect.

While we remain as loyal as ever to Times journalism and journalists, the uncertain economy has posed a continuing and difficult challenge to The Times: how to rebalance our business for the digital age while remaining steadfast to the quality journalism that defines us?

As you all know, the company has consistently chosen to protect the journalism, even while cutting production and other business-side costs and continuing to demand exacting financial discipline in the way the newsroom itself marshals its resources and controls its spending. Even now, we field a newsroom staff about the same size as it was a decade ago, and continue to invest in new opportunities and new platforms for our content.

In conjunction with this offering in the newsroom, the business side is making a small adjustment in its own budget, mostly by eliminating some open slots. This is consistent with ongoing efforts among our colleagues in the business side departments, who have cut their own staff in half over the past decade.

As in previous buyouts, to ensure we do not cut too deeply in our journalistic muscle, we do reserve the right to turn down some volunteers who are in those areas of the newsroom where we feel we cannot reduce our numbers. It is for that reason, in part, that we have excluded those members of the Guild who are covered by the separate Digital contract.

Anyone who is eligible for this offering and interested in volunteering should contact Bill Schmidt's office by Monday, Oct. 24, and we will get you a copy of the package. You will have 45 days from then to decide whether or not you want to formally apply for a buyout.

Jill, Dean and John

[Photo via AP]