NEW YORK (AP) _ The sensational, ''if-it-bleeds-it-leads'' approach to local TV news is giving way at about a dozen stations around the country to ''family- sensitive'' coverage that shuns blood and guts.

''We're out of the body count business,'' said Pahl Shipley, news director of KGBT in Harlingen, Texas, which has been using the new approach since April. ''We're as aggressive as we've ever been, just better focused.''

The stations offering ''family-sensitive'' or ''family-friendly'' news generally avoid sensational images of violence and gore, eliminating them entirely from the afternoon news and using them sparingly in the late news.

''It's about having the courage to step beyond titillation and colorful video that is, on the surface, seemingly good local television,'' said John Lansing, who as news director of Minneapolis' WCCO is credited with coining the term ''family-sensitive,'' if not inventing the form.

He said violent news video was scaring people and distorting their perceptions of their community and others.

The trend is not without its critics.

''Unfortunately, the news is often disturbing by its nature, and to avoid disturbing the audience is ill-serving them,'' said Dave Bartlett, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. ''We have to be careful that in our zeal to be family-sensitive, we don't lose sight of the fact that we still have to be doing news.''

Eric Braun, manager of consultation and research for Frank N. Magid Associates Inc. of Marion, Iowa, a media consulting company, said he, too, is troubled by the development.

''I'm just real nervous about saying to the viewers that we are going to censor what you're going to see,'' he said.

In January, WCCO, the top-rated station in the nation's 14th-biggest market, became the first to identify and promote its newscasts as family- friendly. The impetus emerged from about 100 small, WCCO-sponsored ''town meetings,'' with the station's executives, managers and staff.

''The first words out of people's mouths were, 'Television news is too violent,''' Lansing said.

At a later meeting, Lansing said, a participant said that the problem was not TV news violence, but that TV did a bad job at covering crime issues in particular, and, in general, a bad job at putting the world into context.

''That was a defining moment for me,'' Lansing said.

In addition to eliminating violent video from the 5 p.m. newscast, WCCO created a new beat system to look at more complex issues, and added two full- time staffers to research crime databases for trends and statistics that would put a story in context.

The station also established a ''bill of rights'' for victims of crime. Among other things, reporters covering crime stories cannot put microphones in front of people's faces without first asking permission, Lansing said.

In Miami, CBS-owned WCIX has used family-sensitive news since May 9 to counter top-rated WSVN, an independent known for its fast-paced, sensational coverage. WCIX's 4 and 6 p.m. newscasts were changed with children in mind.

''There are certain graphic images - not just body bags, but also medical stories, in terms of blood - where children can't interpret visual data as well as adults can, where they can't put it into context,'' said news director Sue Kawalerski.

''Our aim is not to put gore on TV to begin with, but there are some stories where a picture does tell the story,'' she added. ''They air at 11 o'clock, where you do have a principally adult audience.''

Other stations using a family-sensitive approach include KRQE, in Albuquerque, N.M.; WLOS of Asheville, N.C.; WMAR, in Baltimore; WCNC in Charlotte, N.C.; WBIR, in Knoxville, Tenn.; KWTV of Oklahoma City; WTAE of Pittsburgh; KXTV of Sacramento, Calif.; KIRO of Seattle; and KGUN in Tucson, Ariz.

Kawalerski, Lansing and Shipley said that their changes have not significantly affected ratings, but that community reaction has been overwhelming approval.

''It leads us to believe we're hit a hot button in the community, something that's been needed for a long time,'' Kawalerski said.

WCIX actively promotes its family-sensitive approach, offering explanations when the broadcast does not show explicit video, and giving warnings when graphic footage is shown on the late news.

Kawalerski rejected criticism that family-sensitive news is censorship.

''Hogwash,'' she said. ''What we've done is expand our view of what's newsworthy.''