Stock Photos
August 5, 2011 1:52 AM   Subscribe

Why are there glum photos of stock traders on bad trading days? After all, traders make money on trades, whether the stock goes up or down.

After a bad day at the markets, various media outlets will show us the stereotypical image of traders on the floor of an unnamed stock exchange, heads held in hands, gazing up at a screen somewhere, looking despaired of the world's woes.

But traders don't lose money on the direction a stock goes in, right?

Other than what they might own themselves, why would traders care that stock is going down, so long as they are the one's doing the trade? Are these photos staged?
posted by Blazecock Pileon to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
They're probably just being tired, but looking sad.

I'm sure you don't need telling that news organisations think the public are so stupid that they need clear illustrations of What They Are Supposed To Think in order to get anything out of the news.

They know we think the market == traders; they think we ought to be feeling sad or worried; therefore: sad traders.

When I was at college (and this is over twenty years ago, when the news was relatively austere and upmarket compared to today) we had sessions of watching the news with the sound down. At that time it was a smorgasbord of library footage tangentially related to the subject; today it would be insane computer graphics. When you do that you realise exactly how stupid they think we are.

It's similar to film and television producers who believe audiences to be incapable of responding to their work without explicit underscoring.

(Is that too cynical for an AskMe? Because I think it's probably true.)
posted by Grangousier at 2:19 AM on August 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

The pictures aren't staged, but you could get pictures of those same traders looking exactly the same on a day the market is going up as well.
posted by atrazine at 2:29 AM on August 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Any day with lots of volatility lead to lots of trader stress as people get caught on the wrong side of long or short trades.

However, IIRC the median trader is net long, so on down days you'll see more stressed traders than on up days. Market makers aim to be market neutral if at all possible, so they shouldn't care unless they're like Goldman Sachs & using their role as market makers to also take a position in the markets based on the observed order flow.
posted by pharm at 2:41 AM on August 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think pharm has it.

Sometimes traders take positions in markets on behalf of their own brokerage houses; their business is not limited to clearing trades for their clients. So if the market tanks and they were on the wrong side of the bet, well, that makes for some pretty glum traders.

Also - on days where there has been a heavy sell-off that means a high volume of transactions. It could hence be because they're exhausted by the sheer volume of orders to execute.
posted by titantoppler at 2:47 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is what always makes me wonder why the NYSE is still an "open outcry" market. Poor sad brokers, all tired! I think it is, in part, due to the fact that people like--nay, LOVE--to come and ring the bell, and if all trades were cleared electronically, the bell would not be as much fun. Plus, it's harder to make the servers look sad.

Being one of these brokers is, truly, one of the most stressful jobs out there.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:07 AM on August 5, 2011

I doubt that the photos you see are taken on that specific day. They're most likely stock photos used by news outlets as illustration. Market down? Run the "worried trader" pics. Market up? Run the "happy trader" pics. Editorial shorthand.

It's a photographic version of the big red or green arrows they run next to the closing numbers.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:52 AM on August 5, 2011

Schadenfreude? Especially at a time when The Bankers are seen as the enemy.
posted by mippy at 5:00 AM on August 5, 2011

(Stock traders aren't bankers.)
posted by gjc at 5:44 AM on August 5, 2011

What others have said. However, I can attest some brokers (whose clients are long) make these kinds of faces in real life. They might have learned it from TV, but regardless on huge bullish days they definitely look happier even though they are just as tired.
posted by michaelh at 5:45 AM on August 5, 2011

I doubt that the photos you see are taken on that specific day. They're most likely stock photos used by news outlets as illustration.

If it's a major news org, then it would not be a stock photo. If it's a bad day on Wall Street and an editor wants a cliched picture of Sad Traders, he will look for available photos (from the AP or Bloomberg subscription services, for ex.) that were actually taken on the day in question.
posted by Buffaload at 6:01 AM on August 5, 2011

Drama!! I think it's the most direct depiction the newspapers can use to show drama. I have been in the investment field almost 30 years and it's always the same dumb thing. The market is so fear driven and the pictures just amplify that.

Dow down 500 points? Not good but amping up the fear is just ridiculous. It serves no one (well, the ones who sell the news maybe).
posted by Mysticalchick at 6:02 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The market is so fear driven and the pictures just amplify that.

It does show a lack of imagination. I've known editors who were locked into dumb/cliched/not helpful photos or stories because, they rationalize, "This is what we always do (when X happens). People will be expecting it." While no one in editorial ever worried about what will sell papers, that has changed over the years with page views. Editors do wonder what pics and headlines will get clicked on the most. The results of this thinking are evident.
posted by Buffaload at 6:19 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Looking at real examples, there's kind of a range, and the ones I found on news sites tjat I look at daily are clearly not stock photography but, on the other hand, only one out of three (Slate) looks like the "despaired" stock trader you mention:

NY Times (intense concentration)

Slate (and he might just be tired, not in despair)

Ithaca Journal (Gannett Newspapers) (concerned but not upset looking)
posted by aught at 6:42 AM on August 5, 2011

Traders lose money all the time. Sometimes a lot of money. Floor trading, back when it was a thing (now it's almost all computers), was especially dangerous since guys could go it alone. Depending on how ballsy you were, you could make a million or lose every cent you had in the world in one trade. Watch the documentary Floored, it's really interesting.

You can still go it alone, doing the computer stuff, but it's much harder (setting up the infrastructure, having people to code your algorithms for you, etc). Most traders work with a firm, so it's much harder to lose, say, your house in a trade these days.
posted by phunniemee at 6:53 AM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always feel bad for the one or two traders whose photos gain really wide distribution and become the face of a bad stock day.

(Especially when frozen orange juice is involved.)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:13 AM on August 5, 2011

Real news orgs use real photos taken that day. A photo is there to break up the page/provide TV pictures for the SOT and to illustrate the story. On a day when the market tanked and many people lost a lot of pension money, it would look weird to have the photo be of a trader celebrating. It's more a matter of what photo would fit than puppetmaster editors/producers OMG Telling You What To Think.
Plus, even guys who made money on a big slide hate to see the whole shebang losing value.
(two finger comment box scrolling on iPhone FTW! thanks for that tip metatalk!)
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:23 AM on August 5, 2011

Most traders come to hate know-it-all shorts, and on a big down day, the traders know the shorts are fist pumping like mad, all the way down, to close. I think that's because it takes a fair amount of constant effort to convince retail customers that they have any chance of making real money in stocks in an age of program trading and corporate arbitrage, and when the market has a big down day, the guys cleaning up on all that constant effort to attract retail trade aren't the traders, so much as the shorts and the institutions. For the traders, its another party they've hosted, at which, they again got only the stale cake of commissions, while they watch lots of small retail customers get their clocks cleaned by panic. Nobody that loves the market can fail to be saddened watching capitulation events.
posted by paulsc at 7:54 AM on August 5, 2011

(Stock traders aren't bankers.)

They may as well be in popular news narrative.
posted by mippy at 7:58 AM on August 5, 2011

It would be great if they showed pictures of really happy traders when the market goes down. You know, just to show how messed up capitalism is.
posted by iotic at 12:33 PM on August 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Stock traders aren't bankers.)

Per the background of the Santelli rant, it's fairly clear whose side they're on.

When I consulted for a small firm at the CME, one of the partners was clearly a Democrat with populist rhetoric that sounds prophetic in retrospect, but I think he was an exception.

As far as photo selection goes, photo editors like anything that shows drama.
posted by dhartung at 4:14 PM on August 5, 2011

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