THE OREGONIAN'S publisher, Fred A. Stickel, emailed all the paper's employees last Friday, August 22, offering a generous buyout package that he said would need to be accepted by "at least 100" staff members. Nearly 50 employees at the paper were bought out a year ago.

"We have a serious financial situation here," Stickel wrote. "By far the most serious in my 41 years as publisher/general manager."

According to the Oregonian, the paper has 1,120 employees, with 270 full time and 90 part time in the newsroom, where at least 50 of the cut jobs are reportedly expected to happen. Employees have until October 6 to decide on the buyout, which provides a year's salary plus two years' health care for those working at the paper five years or more, and two years' salary and health care for those at the paper longer than a decade.

The offer has been long in coming, and few at the paper's office on SW Broadway were surprised by it when the Mercury spoke to them on Friday.

"I'm eligible for it and I plan to take it," said one woman, who works in advertising, but preferred not to be named. "It's really an appealing offer for younger people. I'm 30, I've been here five and a half years, I get a year's pay and two years' medical for my kid. Are you kidding me? I'm totally hire-able elsewhere."

Others were less enthusiastic. Columnist S. Renee Mitchell said she would be "really torn" by the offer.

"I love my community and I've been able to do some great work in this place. We're luckier here at the Oregonian than at a lot of other newspapers, where they have just laid people off with a month's notice," she said.

Mitchell's fellow columnist, Steve Duin, is also introspective: "The question we're all asking: Is there more stability in taking the buyout offer or in staying at the newspaper?" he says. "We're all at a total loss right now as to the future of our business, the future of journalism, and whether we have this ridiculous confluence of a bad economy and a rapidly evolving information system that might leave newspapers behind."