UPDATE, 10:06 AM: This may teach The Times to let lawyers make its big announcements. The company’s calling news organizations to clarify that the plan laid out in this morning’s SEC filing is voluntary: Former employees who are fully vested in the pension plan can elect to keep their current payments. That leaves the question: Why would anyone want to accept a lower amount — the assumption behind the company’s claim that this will reduce its obligations? The Times says that some people might prefer a lump sum now so they don’t have to keep track of payments.  

PREVIOUS, 6:41 AM: This is “another step the Company is taking to reduce the size of its pension obligations and the volatility in the Company’s overall financial condition,” the New York Times says in an SEC filing this morning. It’s giving a choice to about 5,200 pension plan participants — who account for 15% of the liabilities. (Those total liabilities came to nearly $2B at the end of 2011.) By November 2 they must decide whether they want a one-time payment by year-end that equals the present value of their pension benefit, or accept “a reduced monthly annuity.” As a result of the change, the Times expects to take a charge on its Q4 earnings. The amount will depend on how many people take the lump sum payment, as well as the usual collection of assumptions that determine how much the company might earn and pay from its pension accounts. The Times made its decision before the BBC’s Mark Thompson formally steps in as CEO, due to take place in November. It also follows the company’s $300M sale of About.com to Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp. The Times’ stock has appreciated about 25% in 2012.